DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Renner played the event at Waialae for years after his win and this year is back on Oahu for the Champions Tour's Turtle Bay Championship
Renner’s all right
The former Hawaiian Open champ doesn't mind being known here for a memorable loss
Jack Renner was a bit distracted by his uninspired practice round, still trying to find his game in time for today's opening 18 of the Turtle Bay Championship, when suddenly Isao Aoki came into view.
The man forever linked with Aoki at the 1983 United Airlines Hawaiian Open had a spring in his step as he dodged the myriad golf balls dotting the practice green. Both golfers were genuinely glad to see each other as they shook hands, patted shoulders and exchanged pleasantries early yesterday afternoon.
"Are you playing this week?" Renner asked.
Aoki smiled and said, "Yes."
"It's good to see you," Renner replied.
And just like that, they parted company.
Minutes later, Renner recalled with easy candor the PGA Tour tournament he lost without making a shot. Already in the clubhouse signing his scorecard, Renner had a one-shot lead and figured Aoki would birdie to force a playoff.
But as he was adding up the numbers to make sure the score was correct, a roar came from around the 18th green. At first, Renner thought Aoki had stuck his third shot and needed only a short putt for birdie. Seconds later, he learned Aoki had holed it for eagle and now Renner was adding up a second-place finish with the camera trained right on him.
The Golf Channel found the old footage and ran it as part of its coverage for the 2007 Sony Open in Hawaii, a recap Renner said he missed.
"My brother called and told me he saw it again," Renner said. "I don't watch it. That will be around a long time after I'm gone. I think people made a lot more out of it than I did. It's funny because most people don't remember the next year I went back and won the tournament."
In fact, as unlucky as he was in 1983, Renner felt fortunate for beating Wayne Levi in 1984. Levi missed several putts down the stretch, including a 5-footer for birdie at the last, forcing a playoff that Renner won when Levi missed a short putt at the 16th.
"Wayne was one of the stronger finishers of my era on tour," Renner said. "That day, he missed a couple of putts and left the door open. And if we were in that situation 10 times, Wayne would have walked down the 18th and won nine times. He was one ahead and had the ball for birdie at 4 or 5 feet.
"I hit a good drive and hit my second shot into the bunker the right of the green pin high. I hit a pretty mediocre bunker shot about 20 feet from the hole, but I made mine and he missed his, forcing the playoff. He three-putted from about 20 feet at 16. I'm sure Wayne never did that anywhere else in his career."
SB FILE / FEBRUARY 1983
Jack Renner won the Hawaiian Open in 1984, but he is known more for the way he lost it the year before -- on a chip-in eagle by Isao Aoki.
But as memorable as that may be for Renner, they don't talk about that win a much as they do his loss.
"It was funny, for months after that, people would come up from all over America and say, 'There's the kid with the broken heart,' " Renner said. "It's just not that serious and had they kept the camera on me maybe a second longer, I laughed. I thought it was funny. That was my first real reaction.
"I thought he hit it close and I was thinking playoff and then somebody told me he hit it in and I thought it was funny because it was like the biggest joke that anybody has ever played. And the funny thing is, I had a 10-footer for eagle. I hit a decent putt that hit the hole and spun out. He sliced his drive in the right rough and hooked his second shot into the left rough and holed it with a wedge.
"You know, I just saw him over there and we got to be pretty good friends. We connected. He's a great guy."
Last year, a major television network in Japan did a look back on the life of Aoki and his career on the PGA Tour. They flew out to San Diego, where Renner lives, to do an interview with him and talk about that Hawaiian Open all those years ago.
"Funny story," Renner said. "They did an hour show on his life. They sent a camera crew to San Diego from Tokyo, interviewed me for 10 minutes and then turned around and went home. I heard the show had turned out well. I saw him sometime, maybe it was last summer or something, and he told me he appreciated the kind words.
"I had nothing but good things to say about him, coming down the stretch and holing that shot to beat me. What's bad about that?"
Renner could use a little kindness himself. After leaving the PGA Tour as a 32-year-old, he knocked it around for 18 years at various venues, but wasn't sure his game was in tune enough to play on the Champions Tour. He qualified for a few events last year after he turned 50 in July, but his game that he possessed back in the day isn't with him right now.
"It hasn't been a lot of fun," Renner said of his recent foray into the senior circuit. "I know there are guys who can go out there and play and have fun, but I'm not one of them if I'm not playing well. I'd say my career out here is not year-to-year or month-to-month. It's more day-to-day. I won't stay out here long if I can't play any better than this."
With that, Renner resumed his chipping and putting in hopes of finding a game he once possessed that was good enough to be a member of the PGA Tour. He worked very hard the last four or five years to get his game in shape. He'd like nothing better than to come down the stretch on Sunday with a possible championship at stake.
"It's good to be back in Hawaii," Renner said. "I have good memories here. Even after I left the tour in 1989, I played at Waialae for 10 years, and usually made the cut. The last time I played here was in 1994. I'm hopeful I can make some more good memories. But I'll have to play better than I have been lately to do it."