CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Manoa Cup champion Jonathan Ota was tossed into the Oahu Country Club pool by Brandan Kop, Travis Toyama, Dick Sieradzki and Gary Kong after defeating Kong yesterday.
Ota gets soaked after long Manoa final
He needs nearly all 36 holes to defeat Gary Kong and claim the 98th Manoa Cup
Jonathan Ota never imagined getting tossed into a swimming pool could feel so good.
The 44-year-old from Lihue outlasted 53-year-old Gary Kong by taking the 34th and 35th holes of an evenly contested 98th Manoa Cup championship round to claim a 2-and-1 victory yesterday.
Neither golfer would take a lead of more than two holes at any point during the 36-hole match-play final -- which meant they had a nearly complete two-lap trek of the Oahu Country Club course before a winner was decided.
"Oh yeah, that felt good," said a still-dripping Ota after the ceremonial dunking into the club's pool at the hands of Kong, last year's winner Travis Toyama, four-time winner Brandan Kop and 1990 champ Dick Sieradzki. "That was the best part of the day."
His duel with Kong was pretty good, too. Like many matches throughout the week, the decisive play came on the par-3 16th (34th hole overall). With things all square, Ota nailed the green off the drive, but Kong missed wide right. Kong's ensuing chip shot sailed long, and his long par putt came up short.
Ota had been stymied by missed putts to win each of the previous three holes, but this time he gathered himself to sink a 5-footer for par and a one-hole lead. He waved his hands up in the air in mock celebration afterward.
"That was like 'Oh, jeez, finally I make a putt (to win a hole),'" Ota said. "There was a lot of pressure on that putt. I left the first one so short. At that point in the match we were so close that any 1-up will give you a big advantage, down to the wire."
That made for excitement on the par-4, 341-yard 17th, a hole Kong had birdied to win their first time around. This time, though, Ota crushed his drive to the front fringe of the green. It took Kong a second shot to get about to where Ota was, and when Ota's 25-foot chip onto the inclining green came within 2 feet of the hole, it meant Kong would have to sink his chip from about the same distance to prolong the match. His shot went just beyond and to the left, and the two removed their hats, shook hands, and headed for the clubhouse.
CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jonathan Ota defeated Gary Kong yesterday for his first Manoa Cup victory. He took second in the 2001 tournament.
They know each other fairly well from years of playing in the same tournaments throughout the Islands, and their mutual respect was obvious. Their combined 97 years of age is a tournament-final record. If Kong had won, he would have been the oldest champion.
"I know Jonathan very well; he made the crucial putts when he had to and he played a great round," Kong said. "I wish I could have played better, and I think I could have won, but again, he played well and he's a true champion."
Ota led by one or two holes for most of the first lap, but a double bogey on 18 squared things going into their lunch break. Then Kong became the epitome of steadiness in the first afternoon nine, getting pars on each of those holes. Ota double-bogeyed on the eighth, giving Kong -- a longtime OCC member and Nuuanu native -- his first lead of the match.
"I knew his putts would be all close to the hole, his chips would be good, and he wouldn't make mistakes, and that the membership was all rooting for him," Ota said with a grin. "We were eating lunch halfway through and all the members were like, 'Yeah, I hope Gary wins!' Naturally, he's a good member here and has a lot of support, but we just played our hearts out."
They split the next four holes. By the 12th, though, Ota realized he was running out of time, and capitalized on a Kong bogey to claim that hole.
"That gave me life," he said.
Ota, who runs the Tip Top Café and Bakery, came close to winning in 2001, before losing to eventual winner Ryan Koshi. He has entered the tournament off and on since he attended college at the University of Hawaii.
"I know you've been waiting for this a long time," OCC president Phil Shimmin said to Ota as he handed him the trophy.
Kong, a manufacturer's rep for plumbing and water with Delco Sales, isn't satisfied ending his Manoa Cup career as a runner-up. He also finished second in 1979, to Ernie Gonzales Jr.
"I'll be around for the 100th anniversary," he said with a smile, "and pass the baton to the younger kids and call it quits."
The tight play impressed Hawaii State Golf Association President Gary Wild, who couldn't remember a final at the tournament going so far down to the wire in his 10-plus years of rule officiating.
"Very seldom does it come down to the 17th hole on a 36-hole match," he said.