Kua captures state amateur
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
'AIEA — Through rain and wind and ragged swings, TJ Kua relentlessly rolled to the Hawai'i State Amateur Stroke Play Championship yesterday at Pearl Country Club.
Fittingly for the University of Hawai'i sophomore, the end came under a brilliant rainbow and the watchful eye of uncle David Ishii, a Hawai'i Golf Hall of Famer.
Kua went into the final round five shots ahead of Punahou senior Bradley Shigezawa. More than five weather-whipped hours later he had a four-shot win.
It was just the latest addition to Kua's golf resume, which also includes a Mānoa Cup (state amateur match play) championship and qualifying for the Sony Open in Hawai'i the past nine months.
This one came with the least pressure and most imagination, as Kua compensated for a wild driver with a superb short game. The real question at the end was, if Kua can win by four when "I shot better from behind trees than I did from the middle of the fairway" and "I was hitting drives I couldn't keep on the planet" how good could he be?
"The guy just got it done," Shigezawa said. "He takes what he has that day and makes the best of it."
Kua was more critical.
"I felt like I shanked every club I hit today," he said. "I was OK with the rounds I shot as far as scoring. Ball-striking, driving was not up to par at all this week. If I want to compete on the national level I need to get that more tight. Work in progress. Now I know what I need to work on."
He seized the lead in the second round and never let go, playing the middle rounds in 7-under par. He closed with an adventurous 2-over 74 that featured a couple crazy bounces, two double bogeys, three fairways hit, a bunch of clutch putts and a four-day total of 5-under 283.
Shigezawa, headed to Northwestern in the fall, played the back nine in 2-under to fire a 73 for 287. After a few major swing changes and a discouraging Hawai'i Pearl Open, Shigezawa was happy with his progress. He birdied the first hole to cut the gap to three, but bogeyed the next two and never made a meaningful putt to get any closer.
No one else finished under par, with Kamehameha senior Alika Bell — headed to the University of San Francisco — third at 72—292.
Kua's first crazy bounce came when he "shanked" an iron on the fifth hole and the ball was headed out of bounds. He "got lucky," and safe, and ultimately made the fifth of eight straight pars to open the round.
He had a seven-shot cushion going into the ninth, but pushed his drive into the forest, then hit a tree trying to get out and three-putted for his first double bogey.
Whatever hope that provided for Shigezawa was taken away when Kua played the next six holes in 1-under — one-putting four times.
"Each time I had a chance," Shigezawa said, "he just dropped a par putt. A lot of nice par putts."
Kua pointed to a 6-footer for par on the par-3 13th as possibly his biggest of the day.
He would have one more moment of high anxiety. The left-hander pushed another tee shot left on the par-3 16th and the ball bounced off the cart path dead right into the water hazard, leading to another double bogey that cut his lead to four.
"It was pretty funny to see my ball go from one side of the hole to the other and into the water," Kua said. "I saw it bounce and just started to crack up. I guess it was a just a balance (after No. 5). I got a lot of breaks this week. I'm very grateful for that."
Shigezawa missed a 15-foot birdie putt there that would have cut his deficit to three, and a 10-footer for eagle on the next hole as well.
"He had some mishaps this weekend but he's a great golfer, always a good ball-striker," Kua said. "I've seen days when he rolls putts in all day so he will be fine in college."
By the time Shigezawa missed his eagle it didn't matter. Kua was two-putting for birdie after another wild drive led to a ridiculously good second shot that never got 5 feet off the ground and ran about 100 yards to the green, pin-high left.
"I was just fortunate to see it roll all the way to the green," Kua said. "I was surprised."