Sakamoto's 69 leads way in Jennie K. Pak in LPGA lead; Wie 10 shots back
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
LANIKAI — When they toughened up the PGA Tour courses they called it "Tiger-Proofing." In Hawai'i women's golf, it might be called "Teen-Proofing."
It is not working.
Kalani graduate Nicole Sakamoto, a sophomore at James Madison who was playing in the NCAA East Regional a week ago, seized a three-shot lead in the opening round of the 60th annual Jennie K. Wilson Invitational yesterday. Sakamoto sliced through an increasingly gusty Mid-Pacific Country Club for a 3-under-par 69.
She played the final 12 holes in a bogey-free, 4-under. It is a continuation of a breakout sophomore season where she was JMU's MVP, won two collegiate titles and had four more Top-10s. She returned home Tuesday and when coach Lance Suzuki saw her swing Thursday, he was not impressed.
"I told him, 'It might not be pretty, but it's working,'" Sakamoto recalled.
"Monday," Suzuki said, "we'll start working on it."
Five tees have been moved back for Championship Flight this year, adding some 400 yards to make it 6,000-plus. That is very close to what the women played before 1998, when it was a par-73.
No one over 19 seemed to notice. Sakamoto is the oldest golfer in the Top 10 going into this morning's second round. And Moanalua freshman Eimi Koga is tied for 11th with two-time champion Kari Lee Williams.
Williams, suddenly feeling like a legend, won here as a University of Hawai'i senior in 1994, and again five years later. Since then, she has played professionally on mini-tours and in Asia, earned her master's degree and is now an Ivy League golf coach at Columbia University in New York. She came back for the anniversary tournament and finds herself surrounded by potential recruits.
Sixth-grader Allisen Corpuz, who led for the first 51 holes last year, is alone in second at 72.
Hayley Young, who returned from her freshman year at Boise State Thursday night, is the senior member of a third-place tie at 73. The Mid-Pacific Institute alum is joined by 11-year-old Mariana Galdiano and Satoko Sawada, 17, from Okinawa. Sawada is one of three Japanese teens who qualified to play at a tournament in Kyushu.
Galdiano and Sawada both played the back nine in 2-under 34 — six shots better than Tulsa freshman Kristina Merkle. She has won three of the last four Jennie Ks and is alone in sixth at 74. The Moanalua High graduate was 3-under through 12 holes, but bogeyed five of the last six.
"I kind of lost my head a little bit," Merkle said. "Mental block."
Merkle, who also played an NCAA regional last week, left a few out there — and left the rest of the Championship Flight something to think: She lipped out five birdie putts.
"That always happens to me," Merkle grinned. "I was actually putting really well until midway through the back side when I lost my head."
The final round is tomorrow, with the Championship Flight teeing off from 8:30 a.m.