CRAIG KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Kaori Higo earned a spot in the U.S. Women's Open by finishing as the medalist during yesterday's 36-hole qualifying tournament at Ko Olina Golf Club.
Higo qualifies for Open
The 17-year Japan tour veteran finishes
36 holes in 7 over at Ko Olina Golf Club
Three years after missing out on a chance to play in the U.S. Women's Open, Kaori Higo earned another shot at competing in the major tournament by winning the Hawaii sectional qualifier yesterday at Ko Olina Golf Club.
Higo, a 17-year pro on the Japan tour, finished with a 36-hole total of 7-over-par 151 to pull away from the Big Island duo of Kimberly Kim and Amanda Wilson and claim medalist honors.
"I'm excited and relieved," Higo said through an interpreter after securing a spot in the U.S. Women's Open set for June 23-26 at Colorado's Cherry Hills Country Club.
Higo carded rounds of 75 and 76 in winning one of nine sectional qualifiers held across the country this week and the second to be held in Hawaii.
Kim and Wilson tied for low-amateur honors with totals of 157. Kim then won the first-alternate spot with a par on the first playoff hole.
Higo, from Kagoshima, Japan, has 17 wins on the JLPGA tour and has played in the British Open, the Nabisco Dinah Shore and in all three Japan majors during her professional career. She gained an exemption to the U.S. Women's Open in 2002, but had to pull out due to an appendicitis.
She arrived on Oahu last week and played a couple of practice rounds on the breezy Ko Olina course. She said the winds yesterday were actually lighter than she expected, but the practice rounds did little to prepare her for making two tours of the course over roughly 10 hours.
"It might have been (easier) condition-wise, but to play 36 holes was a lot tougher," she said.
On a day when the 6,450-yard course yielded few birdies, Higo overcame a double bogey on the ninth hole to take a slim lead into the afternoon round.
Wilson turned in a morning round score of 76 and Kim was another stroke back after the first 18 holes.
Higo opened the second round with a three-putt bogey on the first hole, but bounced back to shoot even par over the next eight holes, highlighted by a birdie on the par-5 fifth.
She was three shots ahead of Wilson and four ahead of Kim at the turn, but tried to keep from thinking about what was going on with the pair playing ahead of her.
"It's hard to anticipate things in golf because you never know what the other players are going to do," Higo said.
While Kim and Wilson struggled to grind through the back nine, Higo parred the final five holes to increase her lead.
"The walk was long so I was exhausted, but I just had to keep concentrating," said Wilson, a recent graduate at Waiakea. "I was just playing my own game and trying to make some shots."
Kim, an incoming freshman at Waiakea, recently qualified for next month's U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links Championship, and yesterday's second-place finish could prove valuable as well. Wilson benefited from being the first alternate last year when she received a last-minute invitation to play in the Open.
Julie Brooks finished one shot out of the playoff at 158, and Kayla Morinaga posted a 166.