Mid-Pacific Open brings out best Hole in One
World Golf Ranking
Pro tour players from Hawaii
Fujikawa to play in Japan
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
Over 52 years, the Mid-Pacific Open has become known for the sublime with a touch of the ridiculous.
A field of 208, including two senior flights and 146 amateurs, tees off today at Mid-Pacific Country Club. The list of champions reads like a Hawai'i Golf Hall of Fame roster, with Guinea Kop, Ted Makalena, Allan Yamamoto, Ron Castillo, Brandan Kop and eight-time champ Lance Suzuki.
Larry Stubblefield grew up on Mid-Pac's fairways and won here in 1972 and 2001 — a day before he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. David Ishii set the tournament record (17-under 271) in 1986. Twenty years later, he won his third Mid-Pac Open, at 50, days before he was inducted.
They are all part of the tournament's sublime charm. Last year, Ishii experienced the ridiculous while chasing 18-year-old Tadd Fujikawa. His approach shot to the 13th green landed softly, 8 feet from the pin, then rolled off the windblown and frighteningly quick green into the second cut of rough.
That scenario has been frequently replayed in this tournament, which is known as much for its wicked weekend pin placements as its immaculate, often windy, conditions.
Ishii, a 14-time winner in Japan, kindly calls the greens "tour speed." Two years ago, he admitted his mindset on approach shots was "either you're going to be perfect or you're going to be shafted."
The last two years he has been second to Fujikawa, who won by seven shots in 2008 — becoming the youngest champion by four years —and nine last year. The first was Fujikawa's first win as a professional. He is in Georgia preparing for the Chunichi Crowns in Japan this year and will not go for the three-peat.
If he did, Fujikawa knows what he needs to do. He and Regan Lee, who won this in 2002, '03 and '04, both value "distance control" over all else in Lanikai.
"In the sense that when you hit at the pin, even though you are close you need it to be on the correct side," Lee said. "That's your only chance to make a birdie or two-putt."
If your distance is off, Fujikawa says, "you can turn birdie into double-bogey pretty quickly. You need to place yourself around this golf course pretty well."
Stubblefield said he tamed this course filled with "an especially high number of wonderful, natural holes" with some of the best iron play of his life when he won at age 50. John Lynch neutralized the firm and frantic greens, which he calls "borderline too hard," with superb putting in 2005.
Suzuki characterized the conditions as "totally different" for his eight wins between 1977 and '93. Then he could "attack" Mid-Pacific while now he feels as if he has to be "defensive."
"The greens are much, much faster," says Suzuki, who averaged 9-under in his wins. Only four golfers have gone that low in the last 17 years, including Fujikawa the past two.
He is the exception to more than one Mid-Pac Open rule. Old guys usually rock in Lanikai, where experience might mean more than anything.
"You've got to really prepare for this tournament because you know it's going to be a hard week," says 1996 champion Casey Nakama, now eligible for the senior flight. "That why some of the older guys have an advantage. They are more patient and experienced with the golf course. You've got to just plod along. We don't mind hard conditions because it eliminates half the field."