Ueno expands talent beyond golf


POSTED: Friday, April 24, 2009

Whitney Ueno's made a pretty good career out of a sport that doesn't come at the top of her priorities.

The 2005 Hilo High graduate had the ability of a big-time Division I player, but instead chose to attend Willamette (Ore.) University, where she wouldn't have to devote all her time to golf.

When she did, she was one of the best, winning a multitude of tournaments and the admiration of coach Tom Hibbard.




Whitney Ueno


        » College: Willamette (Ore.)

» Class: Senior


» Major: Biology


» High school: Hilo '05


» Sport: Women's golf


» Fun fact: Father played baseball at Willamette


“;Clearly, she's the best women's golfer in Northwest Conference history,”; Hibbard said. “;She should have been a Division I player, but she knew she wouldn't have to be locked into a golf program that demanded all her time her at Willamette, and her real interest was to get a good education.”;

After an unbelievable freshman year in which she won every tournament she entered until the NCAA Division II championships, Ueno scaled things back her sophomore and junior seasons.

Last year, even though she either won or finished tied for first in all eight tournaments she entered, she didn't qualify for nationals because she didn't play enough rounds. In the fall season, instead of competing on the course, she chose to spend a semester in Japan studying abroad.

“;It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,”; Ueno said. “;It wasn't (a hard choice).”;

Ueno was a golf fanatic growing up on the Big Island, but the sport hasn't been the same for her in college thanks to one slight difference.

“;The weather doesn't make it enjoyable for me,”; Ueno said. “;After I came back from Japan, I think every tournament I played in, it hailed.

“;It was just hitting the back of my head and was really terrible.”;

Wind, rain, hail, none of it made a difference in her performance. She enters possibly the final tournament of her career at the Northwest Conference championships beginning tomorrow in Yakima, Wash., as the clear favorite, despite her scoring average shooting up nearly five strokes during the spring season.

“;I have senioritis in everything, including golf,”; Ueno said.

Her scoring average has her outside of the cut needed to make the NCAA championships as an individual, but a good tournament could put her back in the race.

“;It's touch-and-go at this point,”; Hibbard said. “;But she's been dominant in our conference and she's the one person who could do it.”;

She has a little more than two weeks before she graduates with a major in biology. She plans on returning home for the summer, when she'll play golf for fun, before going back to Japan for a second time to get a teaching job.

“;I really liked it the first time,”; Ueno said. “;I figure since I want to go back, I should try to go right after I graduate before I have to start any of these other things like getting a real job.”;