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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 3, 2010

Junior program driving force

 •  For five decades I had the best job in the world



By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Kids have pretty much trampled all over The Ho-nolulu Advertiser Golf Page since it began a decade ago.

The weekly look at golf from Hawai'i's unique perspective started soon after the inception of the Hawai'i State Junior Golf Association and Michelle Wie's 10th birthday. The impact of both have been indelible since on the local game, nationally and around the world.

Hawai'i juniors have left a trail of "youngest ever" landmarks and there is a current in-your-face example that might capture their quality and quantity perfectly: When the Curtis Cup is played later this month, 25 percent of the U.S. team will be from here, in Stephanie Kono and Kimberly Kim.

"I told Gov. Cayetano way back then (in 1998) that the thing we need is competition," said HSJGA co-founder and president Mary Bea Porter-King. "When we got that competition, the kids rose to the challenge."

More than any of us could have possibly predicted. The HSJGA's list of collegiate successes is two pages long. Porter-King, a former LPGA player and USGA director, used to have to implore coaches to watch Hawai'i juniors at Mainland events. Now they fly here to watch everything from a Casey Nakama clinic to a U.S. Women's Open qualifier and Lorens Chan pitching with the pros at the Sony Open in Hawai'i.

Our keiki have won national and international championships. Wie, now 20, is one of the game's most famous faces and has been incredibly generous in her support of the HSJGA. And she and Tadd Fujikawa have taken turns making the Sony Open in Hawai'i must-see TV.

Hawai'i junior golf rocks, and it has rocked the world over the past decade. The comments that follow come from the kids and the folks whose spike marks they followed. This is their take on "the best thing Hawai'i golf has going for it now," as The Advertiser publishes its final Golf Page.

LORI CASTILLO

Rainbow Wahine coach

Three-time USGA champion

Hawai'i Golf Hall of Fame

"No doubt, the No. 1 thing Hawai'i golf has going for it is junior golf. What Title IX did for women's golf nationally, the HSJGA did for the state. It created opportunities and a vision kids did not have before. And everybody jumped in. It's just the nature of a small state. We all pull together."

Current golf goal: "Getting a national championship is part of the five-year plan."

GUY YAMAMOTO

Pearl Country Club Director of Operations

1994 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion

Two-time Mānoa Cup champion

"It's the kids. That's where the future is and I think it's in good hands. There are enough people helping kids, like Mary Bea and Casey and all the others there are enough different flavors where if one is not your style you can go to others.

"We (the adults) must remember that not all of the successes of Hawai'i golfers occur when they are 18 years old or younger. As a late bloomer, I played golf because I enjoyed the game. So the adults should remember that even though our children do not become the next Ted Makalena, David Ishii or Dean Wilson at an early age, by learning how to play golf they have learned a game that will teach them many values that will shape their lives in a positive way: Honor, sportsmanship, tradition. It is truly a game they can play for a lifetime."

Current golf goal: Win another USGA championship

DAVID ISHII

1990 Hawaiian Open champion

14-time winner on Japan pro tour

1977 NCAA team champion (Houston)

Hawai'i Golf Hall of Famer

Founder David S. Ishii Foundation

"What's best about Hawai'i golf is the golfing community that supports it so it can continue on into the younger generation. Also, all the junior golf organizations that teach the kids the way golf should be played and the manners and etiquette they should use.

"I think this is a cycle brought on by the success of others. Michelle Wie and Tadd spurred on this spurt we're having now. We have a lot of young 12- to 13-year-olds now and it's especially popular with the girls. And some are very good."

Current golf goal: Win a senior tournament in Japan

GREG MEYER

Member of Japan pro tour

Four-time Hawai'i Pearl Open champion

"First, you have guys like David Ishii, Dean Wilson and Parker McLachlin that have sort of paved the way on their respective tours for the new breed and have also provided some inspiration as well. And you can add to that list Kevin Hayashi, whose name is always near the top whenever he tees it up and has won the Aloha Section Player of the Year probably since he was born. These guys, just to name a few, provide the much needed fuel to get those motivational juices flowing in these youngsters to make them want to get out there and prove their worth.

"The second part to this is that these same elite players, along with the likes of Casey Nakama, Beau Yokomoto and I'm sure there are more, are willing to share their time and pass on all their expertise that took them all their life to nurture. Not only the technical issues that are involved with making a sound swing, but the mental aspect, physical fitness and rules knowledge as well. So the new crop of youngsters has a fine group of mentors in which to pick their brains, so to speak."

Current golf goal: "I've always wanted to hold a trophy on the 18th green and have my wife and daughter come running up to me." And, soon, "I intend on being the most aggressive, fired up rookie the Japan Senior Tour has ever seen."

ALEX CHING

2008 Mānoa Cup champion

2009 Ping Freshman All-American

Two-time WCC first team

"Everyone really supports each other. Hawai'i is different than any other state. Everyone is really close-knit. It's kinda cliche, but it really is an ohana. Michelle was off doing her thing and a lot of players like Parker, Dean, Tadd and Michelle all set the bar up there.

"Even though they are on the Mainland every single person in Hawai'i is supporting them or has a little information on what is going on with each and every player, no matter what is happening in world. Everyone has each other's back."

Current golf goal: "I really want to have that PGA Tour card in my hand some day. It's the biggest goal in my life, something I aspire to every day."

KRISTINA MERKLE

Four-time Jennie K. Wilson champion

2010 Conference USA Freshman of Year

2008 and 2009 State High School champion

"There are a lot of great juniors out there. Every time I compete in a USGA event at home I'm competing against a bunch of younger kids and the talent just gets greater every year. It really pushes me because I know I've got to be better every year.

"It's really picked up the last 10 years and it definitely has to do with the fact that Michelle was setting the early theme, really showing especially the girls what they can accomplish and earn. And Tadd going pro at such a young age they both really triggered it. I played in all those events just like them OJGA, HSJGA and it really helped. You always have new kids coming out."

Current golf goal: "Right now I'm going through some swing changes. I want to get my swing back so I'm a lot more confident."

ALLISEN CORPUZ

2009 State Women's Match Play champion (youngest ever)

2007 and 2009 U.S. Kids World champion (ages 9 and 11)

2008 Optimist International Junior champion (10-11)

"Meeting new people and the encouragement."

Current golf goal: Get into more USGA tournaments

MICHELLE WIE

No. 7 in Rolex World Ranking

2009 LPGA Lorena Ochoa Invitational champion

2003 U.S. Women's Public Links champion (youngest ever to win USGA event)

"I've always been really happy with the HSJGA. Growing up Hawai'i was the best environment for playing golf. We have great weather, great competition and a great support system. If you do well, you have the whole island supporting you. It was a great environment to grow up in."

Current golf goal: "Become the best player I can be. Right now I just want to win any tournament would be great, majors and non-majors, just get my name out there."

KIMBERLY KIM

2006 U.S. Women's Amateur champion (youngest ever)

2007 AJGA Thunderbird International Junior champion

2007 ReBath Heather Farr Classic champion

Five-time U.S. Women's Open participant

"When I first started over there I thought Mary Bea had a huge influence. She really brought a lot of opportunities by creating that golf association. And Hawai'i has a whole bunch of diverse courses. Basically, you have all you need golf-wise with that and good weather."

Current golf goal: "Someday I'd like to be the best golfer in the world."

CASEY WATABU

2006 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion

2006 NCAA West Regional medalist

2007 Masters participant

"When we were growing up in junior golf we didn't have too many tournaments to play in or too much exposure for the college coaches to see us. Now the juniors have access to way more tournaments, and because of Michelle and Tadd and Stephanie they know some good golfers came from Hawai'i, so kids have more opportunities to reach the next level."

Current golf goal: "My goal was to make the PGA Tour but after a while I kind of lost the desire. For me, right now, I've got to get away and find myself so I can get my head back together. I've been around golf my whole life. Naturally, I will get that competitive fire back again."

LENORE RITTENHOUSE

1983 LPGA United Virginia Bank Classic champion

1977 U.S. Women's Public Links semifinalist

1978 Rainbow Wahine MVP

"It seems like the youngsters that are coming out are doing really, really well. We had nothing like what's going on now. For as tiny a state as Hawai'i is, it can hold its own with places like California and Texas. It's unbelievable, it's great. From what I understand from the college coaches, they like their work ethic; they work really hard. It is so competitive now they have to work hard just to compete in Hawai'i."

Current golf goal: "I played Saturday and shot 1-over and I hadn't played in a month. That's my goal now (to keep playing)."

LORENS CHAN

2009 AJGA Tee Up Junior Challenge champion

2009 State Amateur Stroke Play champion

2009 Sony Open in Hawai'i (second-youngest player in PGA Tour history at 14)

2005 Optimist International and Doral Publinx Junior champion

"We have our own Hall of Famer, David Ishii, who is still competing and winning on the senior tour. He is spending a lot of time training the next generation of golfers. We have Mrs. King, who founded HSJGA and is providing the juniors with many tournament opportunities, both locally and nationally. In addition, she has brought the USGA qualifying events to Hawai'i, giving us the opportunities to play in major national championships.

"Hawai'i also has its share of famous pros: Scott Simpson, Dean, Parker, Michelle, and Tadd. They are making a lot of news for Hawai'i. They are role models for us."

Current golf goal: "I would like to be able to play college golf for a top college with a good golf program."

PARKER MCLACHLIN

2008 PGA Reno-Tahoe Open champion

1996 State High School champion

1986 Junior America's Cup champion

"The best thing Hawai'i golf has going for it is the passion the people of Hawai'i have for the game. And that passion translates to the junior golfers who have then excelled nationally and internationally in the past 10 years. The parents have become more supportive, the golf teachers are more passionate than ever and there are more tournament opportunities in the state because organizers are enthusiastic about enhancing junior golf in Hawai'i.

"The system is set up for kids to succeed now. In my day I was the exception, not the rule. Today's junior golf culture is the opposite. It is exciting to see these kids set up to achieve anything they can dream in their golfing lives."

Current golf goal: "I am more excited than ever to raise the level of my play to that of a top-50 player in the world. I want to be contending for titles on a weekly basis. More importantly, I want to be contending in major championships. I see myself playing on Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams. But my main goal is to win more events on tour so that ultimately I can help grow the game more in Hawai'i, specifically with the junior golfers."

TADD FUJIKAWA

Second-youngest ever to make PGA Tour cut

Youngest U.S. Open participant

2006 Rolex All-America second team

Two-time Mid-Pacific Open champion

"The best thing Hawai'i golf has going for it is the competition has elevated, therefore producing great players."

Current golf goal: "Obtaining my PGA Tour card and winning a tour event."

STEPHANIE KONO

Two-time collegiate All-American

2006 Rolex Jr. All-American

2005 Harder German Junior Masters champion

2005 Westfield Junior PGA champion

"The golf community in Hawai'i is very tight and works together very well. Juniors, amateurs and pros can really feel the support coming from the Hawai'i golf community, even when we're not playing in a local tournament."

Current golf goal: "To improve each season as a Bruin, and to prepare my game (while I am in college) for the next level."

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