HAWAII GROWN REPORT
COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF IDAHO
Baldwin graduate Kelly Nakashima said she's adjusted well to playing for a small school in a small town after she enrolled at Idaho.
Idaho suits Nakashima to a tee
When Elton John holds a concert anywhere in the world, it's a memorable event.
When he has one in the small town of Moscow, Idaho, it's somewhat legendary.
High school: Baldwin '04
Honors: Three-time first-team All-MIL selection; Nine collegiate top-10 finishes and two victories; first Idaho women's golfer to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
Best round: Shot 65 in the final round of the UNLV Spring Rebel Invitational as a junior.
Currently playing on iPod: Sugarland
Favorite movie: "Bruce Almighty "
"Probably the highlight of my four years here," University of Idaho senior Kelly Nakashima said about the concert held just last week.
Nakashima is one of the most successful golfers in Vandals history. She's the only woman golfer at Idaho to qualify for the NCAA championships. She has two collegiate victories and will go for a third in the Western Athletic Conference tournament next week.
Yet when asked about her favorite moment during her collegiate career, she immediately went back to the concert.
"Elton John," she said without hesitation. "I was surprised to see Elton come to such a small town."
Moscow isn't the most happening place in the world, but it has been the perfect environment for the 2004 Baldwin High graduate to excel on the golf course.
Four of her nine top-10 finishes have come during her senior season, in which her stroke average is the best of her career.
The tame surroundings and the low-key atmosphere have made Nakashima's transition from high school relatively easy.
"It's a small school in a small, little town," Nakashima said. "I think I've adjusted well."
Nakashima played a lot of junior golf on the mainland during high school, when she eventually made her connection to Idaho. Christian Akau, a 2002 Kamehameha graduate, was a Vandal at that time and saw Nakashima play in a tournament. He introduced her to Brad Rickel, the head coach at Idaho, and the two immediately hit it off.
"He watched me play and he liked what he saw, I guess," Nakashima said.
Rickel served as Nakashima's coach until last year, when he left to take the head coaching job at Gonzaga. The school hired Lisa Wasinger as his replacement.
The change came at a time when Nakashima was preparing for her senior season, which she hoped would be her best. Wasinger brought with her a different attitude toward coaching and made practices more structured. While Rickel let the team get out on the course and just play, Wasinger has the team do drills and compete with each other in various challenges.
It's a change that took Nakashima some time to get used to.
"First of all, going from a male coach to a female coach is different," Nakashima said. "They have different types of coaching styles and attitudes toward the games. It was a really big change."
Nakashima hasn't let it affect her golf game, as she's enjoying her best season to date. She won the Inland Cup tournament three weeks ago and finished third in both the Giustina Memorial Classic and the Give 'Em Five Intercollegiate.
Her only complaint is a lack of consistency. She finished outside of the top 40 in consecutive tournaments and is coming off a disappointing West Regional Preview, where she shot 21 over par.
"I have a bad tournament and then come back with a good one," Nakashima said.
"It's been up and down. Hopefully at the WAC tournament it will be up."
Nakashima will look to qualify for the NCAA championships next week like she did a year ago.
Her eighth-place finish in the '07 WAC tournament helped the Vandals win the conference title and earn a spot in the NCAA Regional tournament. She placed in a tie for 15th there, which earned her one of the two additional spots given to players who aren't a part of a qualifying team for the NCAA championships. She became the first woman golfer at Idaho to compete in the nationals, which were held in Daytona Beach, Fla.
"I felt like I was treated like a professional on a professional tour," Nakashima said of the experience. "We had a police escort through the town, and we got to see Daytona Speedway. It was pretty high class and is motivation to go again this year."
Nakashima would love to experience the same treatment in the future, when she hopes to one day play on the LPGA Tour.
Nakashima will take part in amateur events after she gets her degree this summer, but says she plans on doing it back home in Hawaii.
Despite the good times in Idaho, Nakashima has stayed close to her Hawaii roots, making the trip home every Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well as during the summer.
"My dad works for Hawaiian Airlines," Nakashima said. "So I get to go back a lot."
A lot is riding on next week's WAC tournament, which could be the end of Nakashima's career if she doesn't do well.
The thought of playing her final tournament as a Vandal hasn't crossed her mind, but she knows it'll hit her playing that final round next Wednesday.
"I'm not really sad about it, but the last day of WAC I'm sure it will kick in," Nakashima said. "It's been very memorable and fun. I've had lots of new experiences."