Garrett Okamura wins 2013 Maui Open

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‘Twas a hot, sunny broiler with intermittent breaks from the heat as an occasional cloud hovered over. The winds were howling for the second consecutive day, and with pressure bearing down on the competitors of the 2013 Maui Open at The Dunes, presented by Maui Toyota, all but one of the overnight leaders managed their emotions today well enough to outlast a hungry, hard-fighting group of fields. Maui boy Garrett Okamura, head PGA golf professional at The Dunes at Maui Lani Golf Course, was a gracious and most-deserving winner of the Championship flight.

With a tough fellow competitor, by the name of T.J. Kua, nipping at his heels from the get-go, Okamura stuck to his own game and even managed to smile despite the ups and downs that golf inevitably brings. His sportsmanship and class reflected the years Okamura spent as a product of the Maui Junior Golf Association, a group his father worked so hard for each every year that his smiling boy was there. It was a dream come true and like so many other great golfers from this island who have won this title before him, Okamura has already proven he has the right stuff as not only a golfer, but as a human being. Marie and I and I suspect many many others here on the Valley Isle are extremely proud of Garrett Okamura. His championship victory is sweet, and as one who has spent many days following him around as a junior, it was a great and long-awaited moment to relish. Well done Garrett.

Many others distinguished themselves and stories are yet to be told in the coming days. Overnight A-Flight leader, David Balmores, a great player who carded an enviable net 66 yesterday, showed a WD on the scoresheet. What happened David? Tom Jezierney, Thomas Saka, and Allen Souza would all finish with scores of 144.

The king of Hawaii golf, Kevin Hayashi, and my chum Captain Kirk Nelson, couldn’t get ‘er done today in the Seniors Division. Elleair Maui G.C. PGA teaching professional, David Braxton’s, stellar even-par final round 72, added to his first-round 74, was just too much for the isle legends, as it was for pro Craig Furtado, whose 74 was one better than his 3-over-par round yesterday. Tied for fourth was a wunderkind, of sorts: amateur ex-banker Glenn Yamasaki, a great guy and outstanding player whose 78 today tied him with the likes of pro Brad Bowen.

Thank God I don’t predict things for a living, because the odds were once-again worthless in trying to guess today’s outcome, with a deserving amateur, Ed Beslow, outlasting the likes of pros Dean Prince and and Clif Council, and amateur Doug Stacy with scores of 72-77-149. I felt for Ed Angulo, who did so well with his first round, only to struggle today, in spite of his outstanding play of late. Also among the casualties was Clif Council, who just couldn’t bring his game with him today, a dilemma that haunts the likable Maui Golf Shop owner.

But the name etched upon the perpetual Koa trophy comes from the Championship Flight, and while Garrett Okamura was battling T.J. Kua and Alex Chiarella, who could have easily won today, had a few hops gone his way, others were making their mark on the leaderboard…. The lady golfers, playing alongside the men from the back tees today, brought their A-games. Superstar amateur, Cassy Isagawa, tied the big boys for the low round of the day, and second lowest of the tournament, carding an even-par 72 in the gales. Cassy is about a foot shorter than most average male players, and yet she was able to knock it around this, Maui’s highest USGA slope-rated course from the tips, as well as the two other best players of the day: Shawn Lu and Ariel Hanson. Shayna Miyajima, a pro, also gave the boys a whopping today, breaking 80 and in brutal afternoon gales. Just amazing.

On the flip-side there were some of the usual oddities, including dear boy Norm Guenther, publisher of Hawaii Golf News & Travel, the bi-monthly golf newspaper out of Mililani. Pushing 80, norm insists on entering pro fields when he can’t even break 100, and while I adore the man’s spunk and tenacity, I think it is beyond selfish to expect those who are paired with him, in this year’s case poor Dean Prince and Wendell Reinking. In Prince’s case, he has either won for had some shot at winning for eons. To stick Norm with him was a downright tough call, and Ed Angulo was hard-pressed to figure out any other way.

Then there was the coaching. Now, I can see if you are playing on Tour and have a caddie who helps you, but parents who insist on being crutches and often obnoxious golf instructors, in the middle of a competitive event, is just terrible for the other competitors. I guess they call the father or coach a caddie, but with carts and no walking, who in Heaven’s name needs a nurse-maiding caddie in the first place!?!

On-course coaching should be banned IMHO, unless you are walking and have someone carrying your bag. This modern iteration of golf, where you excuse yourself as a caddie when you are really a coach is just a joke.

In one instance, I witnessed this poor boy, Justin Hgan, trying to play the event with his father just hovering and dominating the scene. The kid had sliced his ball into the hay on 14’s right side. Playing with him was pro Rudy Cabalar and a young amateur lady player named Marissa Uradomo. The father was asking me, the others, everybody where is boy’s ball went as he was marching around. Cabalar stopped concentrating on his shot, and was helping to find the kid’s ball, which was a futile search. Then it was the long march back to the tee, of course, on a cart. Fifteen minutes later the kid had caught up and was short of the green, with his father coaching him on how to play his approach. Wrong/bad advice I might add.

The poor kid, who was probably having a great round up until this point, dribbled his ball short of the front-right greenside bunker. Then, with his father coaching and prodding, he dumped it into the same bunker, and while still being coached he trundled it out and missed his putt. I could see the kid was demoralized, and the half-hour hole should have been timed, but there was no one marshaling.

This affected the boy and his fellow competitors, who were trying to be gracious, but were visibly upset. Uradomo would miss a 3′ par put save after the long wait. Cabalar would miss his birdie attempt.

In all fairness to Ngan, who began the day tied with Uradomo and one shot up on Cabalar: he is obviously a good player who was having a bad hole. But his father’s incessant coaching was inappropriate and caused much undue duress for everyone, not to mention wasted time. I’m sure he means well, and with my luck is probably a former Tour player himself, but as a coach, he is obnoxious and should get out of the bloody way. A stern tongue-lashing, in this instance, is well-deserved.

Putting all human interference aside, the best players on Maui still struggled with the late Robin Nelson-designed linksland Dunes, with 10 rounds in the 90s shot by the Championship players. Way-fewer than half of the rounds played never broke 80. The course just has too many tricks up its sleeve, which is why those who live here and play it often have the edge, as was the case with Garrett Okamura.

Sure, it helps that he works at the course and grew up about a mile away. But sometimes knowing where the trouble is, or that expectation that you should win, can work against you. Being a champion means you have to block out all of those negative thoughts and focus on the here and the now, one shot at a time. That’s what Garrett did: he stuck to the basics and didn’t get ahead of himself. He is a worthy champion. Well done, Garrett, you are the 2013 Maui Open Champion.

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