CRAIG KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Cyd Okino and her father, Cy, agree that strength training has helped the 11-year-old's golf game.
Okino lifts expectations to new levels
The 11-year-old uses strength training to hone what is already one of the state's best golf games
By Cindy Luis
In the increasingly competitive world of junior golf, it's no longer enough to hit the driving range or the putting green for extra practice to improve one's game. A young golfer's edge over the final holes of a round or a long tournament will come down to strength and endurance.
As with other sports, success begins in the weight room. Conditioning can add yards to a drive or help with balance when trying to get out of a difficult lie, such as on a slippery slope or steep bunker.
And, as Cyd Okino found out last month, it comes in handy when escaping from an alligator. Or the threat of one.
During the USGA State Team Championship at Bluffton, S.C., Okino hit a shot into a bunker. When her group arrived, her ball was not far from one of the residents of the Berkeley Hall course ... a 6-foot alligator.
A course marshal shooed the critter back into the pond but, "Oh, my gosh, it was scary," the 11-year-old Okino said.
Especially when caddy/golf instructor Casey Nakama began to run past Okino saying, "It's coming back" after she had hit out of the bunker.
"It wasn't coming back," Nakama said. "It was watching us from the pond. But it was big enough to eat us. We got out of there fast."
Okino was the youngest golfer in the 50-team field, not an uncommon occurrence for the Kaimuki Middle School seventh-grader, who teed it up in the venerable Jennie K. Tournament in 2003 at age 9. Last June, she became the youngest winner of the Hawaii State
Women's Golf Association Match Play Championship at 11 years, 200 days. She was also the youngest golfer to qualify for the USGA Women's Public Links Championship.
Okino and father Cy credit her twice-weekly workouts with trainer Steve Lee of Peak Performance Athletics for some of the success.
"It's hard work but I have a friend who exercises with me and it makes it more fun," Cyd Okino said. "It's helped make me strong. My legs have gotten a lot stronger and I'm not worried about getting tired.
"In the beginning I didn't think I'd like it, thought I might get hurt or it would be boring. But now I'm happy I joined."
It was Nakama -- the director of the Casey Nakama Golf Development Center and Casey Nakama Junior Golf Development Program at Olomana Links -- who suggested to Cy Okino that his daughter might be helped by physical training. A friend mentioned Lee, who runs most of his sessions out of the converted wrestling room he rents at the Kalani High School gym.
"It's made a big difference," Cy Okino said. "When you play those USGA tournaments, they're long and grueling. If she hadn't been training, I don't know if she would have even made it to those tournaments.
"It's helped with her driving and overall game. I think a lot of her success this summer had to do with her physical condition."
Besides the state match play title, the past few months included her winning the state junior girls championship in the 11-12 year-old division, competing in the Optimist International Junior and Callaway Golf Junior World championships; and playing in two USGA events, the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links and the state team championship.
Lee works with athletes from age 9 to 67. He said Okino was a great candidate for his program.
"She's strong for her age, was strong when she came to me," Lee said. "Nutrition is important and she likes to eat good things, like poi."
Okino was also used to the discipline that golfing requires. It was an easy transition to a workout routine.
"Because she has grown so much the past few years (an estimated 5 inches), our goals have been coordination and keeping her movement efficient," Lee said. "In golf, balance is particularly important and when kids grow, their center of gravity continues to change.
"The golf course is not stable, it's always challenging our balance. You could be on a hill with a wet slope, needing to put one foot up on a bunker, hitting out of a sand trap. We use a number of different things to work on balance."
A typical workout is an hour, with some resistance training, light weights and cardiovascular work. And any time you work with athletes, there's always psychology.
When it comes to working with golfers, the sessions are partly decompression, going over the good and bad parts of a round or tournament. It's a way of making sure bad habits haven't slipped in, which could lead to injury.
"You're never too young to learn core conditioning, how to stabilize the body," Lee said. "And it's important for older people who tend to forget how to bend and pick up things correctly."
Lee's golf class encompasses all the fitness needs for a golfer, from core stability and movement education to cardiovascular training.
Classes for the other sports involve most of the same ideals as the golf class. However, because the demands of the sports vary -- from running speed to agility -- the exercises can vary greatly from those in the golf class.
"The purpose of functional core enhancement techniques is to specifically train an individual to have the proper muscular balance and strength to improve their efficiency of movement and help to prevent injury in their activity," Lee said.
"Functional core enhancement has grown exponentially since I started implementing the techniques in the mid 90s. Nowadays you can't turn on the TV and not hear the words 'Core training' echoed by rehab and fitness professionals, athletes, coaches and celebrities alike."
Lee, a former baseball player at Hawaii Baptist, didn't start out as a trainer. He was on the business school track at the University of Hawaii when, during an intramural basketball game, he dislocated his shoulder for the second time in four months.
During his rehab with physical therapist Elroy Chong, Lee became interested in the process as a potential career. Because physical therapy is a graduate degree, Lee pursued his undergraduate degree in athletic training, eventually interning at Saint Louis School.
Lee finished his course work at Puget Sound, and after an unsuccessful attempt to bring injury prevention and work performance enhancement ideals to several corporate fitness programs in Honolulu, he returned to UPS as an assistant certified athletic trainer.
Last week (Oct. 18-22), Lee and former business partner Tad Jinguji made a presentation at the Washington Alliance of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (WAHPERD) conference. It focused on the implementation of functional core enhancement into athletic conditioning programs and physical education curriculums.
Lee's Peak Performance Athletics also offers equipment and consulting packages for schools and sports organizations. For the past four years, he's volunteered at Kalani High as the functional core enhancement coach for all Falcon athletes.
Lee said his goal is to keep his classes affordable. For golfers, the recommendation is two classes a week but realizes that $60 a week may be pricey.
"If they come once a week, that's OK," he said. "Some of them work out on their own, have their own equipment at home. But you can tell if they haven't been working out."
Cyd Okino is faithful with her workouts, Lee said.
"She is an amazing child," he said. "It's unreal to think that she has accomplished so much in such a short time. It's been an exciting two years."
Okino, who turns 12 in December, was working out the afternoon that Michelle Wie signed her $10 million endorsement contract with Nike. Okino knows Wie from earlier tournaments and from Nakama's golf school.
"I don't know what I'd do with that much money," Okino said. "Donate some like Michelle did, maybe buy a new house for my parents. I know my mom would want me to put some in the bank ... put a lot of it in the bank.
"My goal is to keep practicing, get better in golf, maybe play in an LPGA Tournament. I think that for young people, Michelle is the one to look to right now. But I like Annika Sorenstam."
And playing in a men's tournament?
"I think so because I always want to learn from other golfers," Okino said. "My favorite golfer is Tiger Woods."
Peak Performance Athletics, LLC.
At Kalani High School gym
Functional core enhancement classes
Who: Open to all ages
When: Openings on Sundays at 9 a.m., 11 a.m. and noon.
Size: Limited to 6 participants.
Cost: $27.50 per hour. One-to-one sessions available at $75 an hour.
Who: Open only to competitive junior golfers
When: Weekday evenings, 6-8 p.m.
Size: Limited to 4 participants
Cost: $30 per 1-hour session. One-to-one sessions available at $75 per hour.