JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Local teen Ayaka Kaneko closed with a 71 yesterday, tying for 45th in the Fields Open.
Amateur Kaneko outplays Wie
Ayaka Kaneko doesn't plan on becoming a professional golfer before at least a couple more years as an amateur. But after her performance this week at the Fields Open in Hawaii she knows she can compete with the pay-for-play crowd.
The 17-year-old Sacred Hearts Academy senior said she will play college golf at Pepperdine before attempting to join the LPGA.
Kaneko, the only amateur to make the cut, got as low as 6-under for the tournament in yesterday's final round at Ko Olina Resort. She started with a blazing first nine of 4-under before giving back three strokes after the turn.
She carded a 71 yesterday for a 213 total, tied for 45th with Stacy Prammanasudh. Not bad company, considering Prammanasudh won this tournament last year.
"I have confidence now. I can play against professionals," Kaneko said.
Not that Kaneko is some out-of-the-blue newcomer; she is second to only Kimberly Kim in the Golfweek rankings for all junior girls.
A few minutes after Kaneko completed her round, Michelle Wie sputtered in with 6-over 78. She finished tied for 73rd with Carolina Llano, last among the players who made the cut.
Wie finished at 220 for the tournament, her first of the year after a 2007 in which she was hobbled by wrist injuries.
"Shots weren't going where I wanted them to, misread a couple of putts," said Wie, who earned $2,531.
Kaneko's payday would've been around $5,000, but she'll have to settle for some invaluable experience instead. It will come in handy at her next tournament, an American Junior Golf Association championship event at The Traditions at Texas A&M.
"She showed she can play at this level," said her caddie, Clark Miyazaki. "That's a big step for her."
Two years ago, Kaneko played in the U.S. Women's Open with results not nearly as good. She missed the cut with a 158, tied for 134th place.
Of course, the layout and the field for a major is much tougher. And yesterday's conditions were again conducive to good scoring -- there was only a slight, intermittent breeze.
It made lofty expectations realistic, even for a high school kid playing in a group including the 2006 winner, Meena Lee.
"My goal for today was six birdies and one eagle," said Kaneko.
She accomplished the first part. But instead of the eagle, Kaneko had four bogeys and a double bogey.
She scaled the leaderboard early with three birdies on the first four holes. Two more after a bogey on No. 15 (she started on the back nine), and Kaneko made the turn at 4 under for the day.
But her third shot on the 509-yard, par-5 No. 1 was the turning point -- in a bad way -- of her round. Kaneko landed on the cart path to the left. After she took a drop, her short chip didn't make the fringe. She then chipped to 3 feet, but she missed that putt and took a double-bogey 7.
Kaneko said the one bad hole got into her head a little bit, disrupting her rhythm.
"I had birdie chances after that, but I didn't make it. It was kind of bad," she said. "I have to fix my driver shots and my chipping."
Still, not a bad day and week for a player whose gear includes Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse club covers. It's back to school tomorrow.
Wie, 18, returns to classes this week also, at Stanford, where she is a freshman. She said she is undecided on her next golf event.