Nino returns for Manoa Cup defense
About a week into his summer internship at a financial planning firm, Kurt Nino already had to ask a favor of his supervisor.
100th Manoa Cup
At Oahu Country Club
» Tomorrow: Qualifying round, 6:30 a.m.
» Tuesday: First-round matches, 7 a.m., first and 10th tees.
» Wednesday: Second-round matches, 7 a.m., No. 1 tee.
» Thursday: Third-round matches, 7 a.m., No. 1 tee.
» Friday: Quarterfinal matches, 7 a.m., No. 1 tee. Semifinal matches, noon, No. 1 tee.
»Saturday: 36-hole championship match, 7 a.m., first 18 holes; lunch break; 11:30 a.m., second 18 holes.
His appeal? Oh, just a few days off to defend his title in one of the nation's oldest golf tournaments, which by the way, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
"I wasn't planning on playing the Manoa Cup because of (the internship)," Nino said from San Francisco last week, "but fortunately my boss was willing to let me take a week off. I'm fortunate to even come back and play.
"Especially with the centennial this year, it's an even bigger deal, so they understood."
Nino, the 99th name on the list of Manoa Cup champions, was scheduled to land in Honolulu yesterday and will be on the course at Oahu Country Club tomorrow as the march toward the state amateur match-play championship begins.
Nino is among 10 champions entered in a field vying to win the 100th championship. Joining him are four-time winner Brandan Kop along with two-time champs Travis Toyama and Guy Yamamoto. Ryan Perez, Kellen-Floyd Asao and Jonathan Ota also return.
Four champions play together in a group teeing off at 8 a.m. -- Jack Omuro (1960), Art Fujita (1964), Paul Spengler Jr. (1969) and Yamamoto (1985, '92).
An even 100 golfers have tee times for tomorrow's qualifying round with the top 63 earning spots in the match-play bracket that begins Tuesday. As defending champion, Nino is automatically awarded the top seed.
Matches continue Wednesday and Thursday with the quarterfinals and semifinals set for Friday and the 36-hole championship match set for Saturday.
The tournament's namesake trophy was first donated to the Manoa Golf Club in 1905 and moved to Oahu Country Club in Nuuanu when the Manoa course closed in 1906.
The tournament was established in 1907 as a 36-hole stroke-play event with the current match-play format instituted in 1926. The tournament skipped two years due to World War II and has been played at OCC every year since it resumed in 1944.
Earning the traditional toss into the OCC pool after the final round will mean surviving a week-long test of shot-making, nerves and endurance.
"In a three- or four-round (stroke play) tournament you can have a bad round but still come back and win the tournament the next two days. In this tournament if you have a bad round you're gone," said Kop, a recent inductee into the Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame.
"You can even have a good round and the other player gets real hot and beats you. Anything can happen."
Kop first played in the tournament at age 12, qualifying for match play at 13, and was 22 when he won his first championship. He'll be back for the qualifying round tomorrow in hopes of earning yet another chance to hike the hilly 6,041-yard layout a decade after picking up his fourth title.
While Kop said the OCC course has changed little over the last 30 years, the age range of the competitors has.
"The younger players are so much better now," he said. "They can hit the ball farther, and the mental game, they're not afraid, they expect to do well in big tournaments.
"In those days (when he won in 1983), if you were under 25 that was pretty good. Nowdays 15-, 16-year-olds will make the finals."
Toyama became the youngest champion at age 15 in 2002 and the influx of talented junior golfers has continued to surge. Lorens Chan challenged the record last year, reaching the semifinals as a 13-year-old, and is back for another run this year.
Three of the last five high school state champions -- Alex Ching (Punahou), Kellen Watabu (Kauai) and Nino (Damien) -- are also entered.
Nino, who plays for the University of San Francisco, ended Chan's run on his way to securing the most prized victory of his young career, eclipsing the high school title he won in 2004.
"I still consider Manoa Cup to be the most prestigious of all the tournaments in Hawaii," said Nino, who keeps a picture of him holing a 30-foot birdie putt to win last year's final tacked on his wall. "I just wanted to be part of that list.
"I'd been to the semifinals twice and the finals once and it's not a good feeling going through four days and how many holes and coming up short of a championship. As the tournament goes on you tend to grind more because you look back on how far you made it and you just don't want to quit."