Sony Open a jump start for 2010
By Bill Kwon
There's such a dramatic contrast between the SBS Championship and the Sony Open in Hawai'i.
We're not talking about the venues — the sprawling, mountainous terrain of the Plantation Course that Geoff Ogilvy has conquered for the past two years, and Waialae Country Club's tight but flat oceanside layout where Zach Johnson is also trying for back-to-back wins starting today.
Rather, it's the psychic difference of being among golf's "ins" as opposed to being on the outside looking in.
The SBS, nee Mercedes-Benz Championship, is by invitation, for winners only, guys who enjoy the lifestyle of the rich and famous as a reward for being champions in 2009: a fabulous week of pampering on Maui and a free stay at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua.
The Sony Open is more for golf's working stiffs, those hoping to gain the winner's circle or earn enough money to retain their playing privileges. No Ritz-Carlton for them, more like Motel 6. No wonder 16 of this year's 18 rookies are teeing it up at Waialae this week, trying to get an early jump to reach for those goals.
Also in the PGA Tour's first full-field event (144 players) are six players from Hawai'i. Two of them, Parker McLachlin and Dean Wilson, want to keep playing on the tour.
McLachlin, who had a two-year exemption for winning the 2008 Legends Reno-Tahoe Open, could find himself in the same predicament as Wilson if he doesn't turn his game around this year. The Punahou School graduate tumbled to 176th on the 2009 money list, earning only $265,033 after $1.3 million the year before. He could use another win and wouldn't mind if it's the hometown PGA event at Waialae that he dreamed of winning as a youngster.
Wilson lost his player's card after finishing 152nd on the money list with $442,600. He had earned seven figures in each of the previous three years, including a career high $2.5 million in 2006 when he won the International. As a result, the Kāne'ohe native found himself shunted to the back pages of the 2010 media guide, joining the "other prominent PGA Tour members" who didn't make the top 125. He'd like to be back on the more prominent list.
Meanwhile, Tadd Fujikawa, who excited the golf world with his showing in the 2007 Sony Open and electrified the folks again last year when he shot a 62 in the third round and momentarily topped the leaderboard on Sunday, hopes to be the third local pro on the PGA Tour one day. "If I can do well here, I think it will give me some pretty good opportunities to play more events and just get myself out there," said Fujikawa, who's moving to the Mainland to play a mini-tour in North Carolina.
Kevin Hayashi, the six-time Aloha Section PGA player of the year, isn't asking for much. He would just like to make the cut a change in his ninth start in the PGA event at Waialae after first playing in the 1996 United Airlines Hawaiian Open.
For TJ Kua, a sophomore on the University of Hawai'i golf team and the only amateur in the field, playing in the Sony Open is mostly a learning experience toward a future in professional golf. He's following in the footsteps of the last three Governor's Cup amateurs who received special exemptions — Lorens Chan, Alex Ching and Fujikawa, the most successful of them all.
Playing on after this week is the goal of Wilson, Fujikawa and Nick Mason. Other than getting a sponsor's exemption as Wilson and Fujikawa did from Sony, the best shot is by finishing in the top 10 this week. That'll get a spot in the next available PGA event, which will be the San Diego Open at Torrey Pines at the end of the month.
Wilson figures it'll be the way to go for him this year. With his limited status, he figures to play around 15 tournaments, half the number he averaged the past four years.
"I've got to write some letters and see. But I don't know what would want to make these guys give me an exemption other than Hawai'i," Wilson said. "Maybe on the West Coast, I'll go to the Monday qualifiers. Hopefully I can play well and maybe keep top-tenning and getting in or something. Maybe win the Sony Open. That would take care of everything."
Former UH-Hilo golfer Mason became the sixth local in the field as a Monday qualifier at Turtle Bay's Palmer Course. "Just awesome. It's my first PGA event," Mason said. His parents, Major Gen. Raymond Mason and mom, Patti, took the first plane out of Atlanta when they heard that their boy made it.
"I think Waialae is a great course for me, especially if the wind blows," Mason said. "You have to keep it in the fairway. I'm not a real long guy but I like to hit different clubs off the tee and keep it in the fairway. If I do that, I'll have a great opportunity."
Bill Kwon can be reached at email@example.com.