Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, January 9, 2002

Sony Open in Hawaii
Earl Medeiros of Waianae, left, looks at a putt with partner and PGA Tour pro and defending Sony champ Brad Faxon.

Pros, juniors unite;
Medeiros, Faxon win

Six Hawaii junior golfers
compete with superstars

Power surge
Field gears up

By Dave Reardon

Imagine you're a high school football player running routes for Brett Favre, or a prep slugger taking batting practice with Barry Bonds.

Six Hawaii junior golfers experienced something similar yesterday at Waialae Country Club -- but even better. This wasn't practice: The youngsters competed with and against some of the superstars of their sport on an equal basis.

Each junior teamed with a PGA Tour standout in alternate-shot play for six holes at Waialae Country Club, site of this week's Sony Open.

Defending Sony champion Brad Faxon and Earl Medeiros of Waianae High School won the first annual Pro-Junior Golf Challenge, which replaced the Johnny Bellinger Shootout.

First Hawaiian Bank, the event's sponsor, originally promised a $12,000 donation to junior golf in Hawaii but ended up doubling it. The pros' purse was $13,000, with Faxon getting $5,000.

The event was the brainchild of FHB chairman and CEO Walter Dods, Waialae pro Greg Nichols and Herb Wolff.

"What touched my heart is the way the pros treated the kids," Dods said. "I've been to a lot of pro-ams, and it's business as usual. But this was something special."

Faxon hit a sand wedge from 75 yards to within three feet of the cup on the 18th hole, and Medeiros drained the putt for a birdie and the win.

Medeiros said the way his nerves were going, the short putt looked more like a 20-footer.

"I had to make it. There were a lot of people watching, that made it really tough," Medeiros said.

Huge galleries to rival those for popular playing groups during the actual tournament lined both sides of the fairways, despite showers before the mid-afternoon event.

The young players -- including 12-year-old Punahou phenoms Michelle Wie and Stephanie Kono -- said the big crowds made them as nervous as playing with the pros did.

But Faxon, Davis Love III, Fred Couples, Tom Lehman, Scott Simpson and David Ishii helped the juniors relax with a "good try" here and a high-five there, all delivered with genuine smiles.

The other juniors were Jarett Hamamoto and Gabriel Wilson, both of state champion Waiakea, and Ayumi Hori of Moanalua.

"I was scared at first, but they were really nice," said Wie, who dominated the local golf scene last summer with her precocious play.

Hori said she felt out of her element at first, but not for long because of her playing partner, Love, and the other pros.

"They were very, very friendly. They made it a great experience," she said.

It didn't take long for the youths to show they could play with the pros, at least for a few holes. Off the first tee (Waialae's 10th hole), the first three juniors to hit found the fairway, while the pros did not.

Hori turned in the best putt of the day, knocking a 45-foot lag to within one foot of the hole for Love to tap in for par on No. 13. Medeiros then did the same on a 30-footer to leave Faxon a gimme for par.

Medeiros and Faxon made an especially good team, since Medeiros was the longest hitter among the juniors and Faxon is famed for his short game. But Medeiros did well around the greens, too.

"He's very big. He probably weighs about 50 pounds more than I do and can really hit the ball," Faxon said. "And he's obviously got some short game."

Medeiros, who has been golfing since age 3, placed fourth in last year's Hawaii High School Athletic Association state championship tournament.

Medeiros, who is a junior at Waianae, said he isn't sure if the Seariders will have a team this year.

"Right now, it's kind of hard because we don't have a coach yet," Medeiros said. "But I had a great coach today. "He was giving me a lot of tips out there. He told me, 'Trust your swing and trust your putt.' "

Faxon said he was a little nervous himself, because he didn't practice except for chipping and putting before the event.

He said he enjoyed playing with some of Hawaii's best young golfers.

"We were all juniors at one time. I never could have done this when I was their age. It's a great experience. All of them are very impressive, the way they handle themselves," Faxon said.

"It's incredible. It seems like they're getting younger and younger -- partly because I'm getting older and older. There's no doubt that with Tiger Woods coming on the scene a few years ago and Sergio Garcia now and Ty Tryon, the bar has been raised and there's no limit as to how young these guys can be. And girls."

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