Moanalua golfer moves to the forefront


POSTED: Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Full boat. Full ride. Whatever you call it, Kristina Merkle got her scholarship.

The Moanalua High senior and defending state girls golf individual champion will tee it up for the University of Tulsa next year, realizing the scholarship potential spotted by an interested bystander years ago.

Lou Merkle remembers it like this: He had moved his family to Hong Kong to take the head pro position at the Discovery Bay Golf Club and was approached by the coach of a Pac-10 team, who had noticed his 6-year-old daughter whacking the ball at the driving range alongside his players.

“;(Kristina) could hit it real well when she was small,”; said Lou, now the head pro at Fort Shafter's Walter J. Nagorski Golf Course.

“;(The coach) told me, 'If she does real well, just tell her to remember two words when she goes to college: Full boat,' “; said Lou, recalling the surprise he felt hearing a stranger offer unsolicited advice on securing a full-ride scholarship for his daughter. She was, after all, only a first-grader.

The following year, Kristina wowed Lou again back in Hawaii, where she won her first title at age 7 in a junior tournament at Hickam.

“;She really shocked me,”; said Lou. “;On the first nine holes, she shot 30 or 31 on a par-3 course. She hit six of nine greens, and the other three holes, she was just off the front.”;

Since then, Merkle has continued to post impressive wins.

Two years ago, the Salt Lake resident became only the fifth person to win back-to-back Jennie K. Wilson Invitational titles, blowing away the field by 13 strokes.

Kristina Merkle won her first title at Mid-Pacific Country Club as a 14-year-old freshman, a week after helping the Moanalua girls team win the Oahu Interscholastic Association team title. That first Jennie K. title was more a breakthrough than a coming-out party—the 2006 tournament was her third start in the event—but it was the perfect gift for Jade Merkle.

“;(My mom) wanted it for a late Mother's Day gift, and so I was really glad I could pull it out,”; Kristina said.

Jade Merkle, who works at Leilehua Golf Course, usually accompanies her daughter to mainland tournaments.

“;She's the one that really pushes me to become better,”; Merkle said of her mother. “;She's like my little cheerleader out there on the golf course, which is really cool.”;

But it was Lou who taught Kristina since she was 3.

“;I'm really fortunate to have my dad as a pro,”; Kristina said. She realizes that he doesn't play nearly as much as he'd like “;because he's been working a lot and teaching, trying to support me.”;

With her parents' guidance, Merkle has traveled far and wide to develop her game.

“;When I first went to a mainland tournament, I was pretty blown away because the competition is just so much more fierce out there,”; she said, citing the lessons learned representing Hawaii as a 13-year-old at the Junior America's Cup in Mexico.

“;I didn't play good, not at all, but it was a good experience,”; Merkle said. “;It really opened my eyes as to how much it work it really takes.”;

And Merkle has been willing to do the work. After carding an even-par 73 to win an OIA tournament at Hickam's Mamala Bay course on Monday, Merkle headed back to Fort Shafter for a late afternoon practice session.

Recently, Merkle added visualization training to her regimen, even though others praise her mental toughness and ability to shrug off errant shots.

“;She can recover better than everyone else,”; said Randy Yadao, the Moanalua coach. “;She doesn't react to anything bad.”;

Last May, Merkle rolled in a 10-foot putt on the final hole to win the state girls individual title by one stroke over Punahou's Anna Jang at Wailua Municipal Golf Course on Kauai.

“;I think that was the most clutch round I've ever had,”; said Merkle.

Asked about defending her title at the David S. Ishii Foundation/HHSAA Girls Golf State Championships on Maui next month, Merkle couches her confidence in diplomacy.

“;Anything is possible in golf,”; Merkle said. “;I'm just hoping to play good, and I kinda want to win my title back, so we'll see what happens.”;

Merkle says the Punahou girls look strong going into states—May 5 and 6 at the Royal Kaanapali Golf Course on Maui—but she hopes to lead her teammates to a second straight league title.

“;It'll be difficult (to take states),”; she said. “;Punahou has a really good team. But hopefully, we'll be able to defend our title at OIAs.”;

And though the high school season is winding down, Merkle's playing schedule will start to pick up. A little more than a week after her swan song at the state tournament, she'll make her sixth start at the Jennie K. Her slate also includes the local qualifiers for the U.S. Women's Open, U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links, and the Aloha Section PGA Junior Championship, which she won last June.


Athletes of the Week


Brittany Guro

» School: 'Iolani

» Sport: Softball. The southpaw continued her hot streak with a shutout of Mid-Pacific. She fanned six and allowed five hits in the win, her third shutout in a row.

Rudy Cabalar
» School: Aiea
» Sport: Golf. He carded a 65 to win the week's OIA West boys tournament.


Honor Roll


» Eddie Char, Kaimuki: went 4-for-4 with three doubles and two runs while pitching a complete-game win over Farrington. He also hit a triple, scored four times and drove in three during the second game of the doubleheader

» Ryan Cortez, Moanalua: socked a grand slam against Kalaheo and finished with seven RBIs in the doubleheader

» Triton Gante, Waipahu: went 5-for-8 in a doubleheader against Radford

» Keanu Kapana, Campbell: belted a grand slam and drove in five runs against Leilehua

» Masa Kato, McKinley: went 6-for-8 with a homer, triple and two doubles in a twin bill against Kahuku

» Inoka Kahawaii, Kahuku: shot a 72 to win the week's OIA East boys tournament
» Kristina Merkle, Moanalua: shot a 72 to win the week's OIA East girls tournament
» Maryssa Shigesato, Mililani: shot a 76 to win the week's OIA West tournament

» Amy Austin, Kaiser: went 3-for-4 with a triple against McKinley, then homered in the second game of a doubleheader
» Brittney Guro, 'Iolani: fired a one-hit shutout against St. Francis
» Kamalei Pitoy, Roosevelt: went 3-for-5 with a homer, triple and four RBIs against Kahuku
» Stephanie Putman, Moanalua: went 3-for-4 with a homer, two doubles and an RBI against Kaimuki
» Kim Souza, 'Iolani: went 3-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs against St. Francis

Track and Field
» Paulay Asiata, Word of Life: took first in discus and third in shot put at the ILH Relays
» Jim Tomaszek, Saint Louis: first in triple jump, second in long jump
» Chase Weber, 'Iolani: first in the shot put, second in discus
» Kasandra Vegas, Kamehameha: first in shot put, second in discus