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StarBulletin.com

Determined Kua earns Manoa Cup


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POSTED: Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sweating out 36 holes of high-tension golf made T.J. Kua's plunge all the more refreshing.

Kua was more than happy to accept the ceremonial toss into the Oahu Country Club pool yesterday after grinding out a 1-up win over Layne Morita in the championship match of the Manoa Cup.

“;It was good to be in water,”; a still dripping Kua said. “;My legs are burning. It was a long day.”;

Kua never trailed in the matchup of Kauai products and was 3 up after yesterday's first 18 holes. But the title in the 101st tournament wasn't decided until he rolled in a par putt from inside of 2 feet after Morita's birdie attempt stopped 2 inches short of the cup on the final hole.

“;It's huge,”; Kua said. “;There's no doubt this is probably the most prestigious tournament in Hawaii because it puts so much strain on your body and so much strain on your mind.”;

Kua, an incoming sophomore with the University of Hawaii golf team, had edged toward the title in his first two Manoa Cup appearances. He reached the quarterfinals in his debut in 2005 and the semifinals last year before losing to Alex Ching in 19 holes.

He had some help from two past champions in breaking through this time.

He stayed with Ching's family during the week of the tournament and had two-time champion Travis Toyama as his caddie throughout the six-day odyssey through qualifying and the 64-player bracket.

“;He did everything, I'm just there carrying the bag and raking those bunkers. He played solid all week,”; Toyama said after raising his Manoa Cup title count to “;2 1/2 .”;

Yesterday marked the first time the state amateur match-play championship went the full 36 holes since 2001 when Ryan Koshi edged Kellen-Floyd Asao 1 up.

Kua, who survived a 21-hole duel with Bradley Yosaitis in the third round, said distraction was a key in maintaining his focus as the pressure steadily climbed.

“;Travis made sure I took some breaths and relaxed,”; Kua said. “;I tried not to think about the shot until I was right over it. Think about something funny, not even related to golf at all.”;

Still, the match jangled the nerves of both players as Kua labored to hold off Morita.

Morita found himself 4 down after a bogey on the seventh hole, but won four of the next five, closing to within one with a birdie putt on No. 12.

It appeared he'd have a chance to tie when Kua's tee shot on No. 13 sailed into the rough. But Morita's second shot on the uphill par-5 hooked wildly, hitting the cart path and bouncing up to the 14th tee box. He eventually bogeyed the hole while Kua made par to fall back to 2 down.

“;I made some mistakes here and there and it cost me today,”; said Morita, a Chaminade senior.

But Morita continued to hang around and the match tightened further when Kua's three-putt on No. 16 left him just 1 up going into the final two holes.

Morita made a clutch par putt on No. 17 and stuck his approach on No. 18 about 6 feet from the pin. With Kua also safely on the green, Morita needed his birdie putt to drop to force extra holes. But it came up about one revolution short of the cup.

“;There was a little bit of sand in the line. I thought I hit it good, but it just died,”; Morita said.

That left Kua with just his short par putt to close it out.

“;It gives me a confidence boost since I haven't really won anything big for a while,”; Kua said. “;I feel a little more accomplished to have my name on the same trophy as Alex and Travis.”;

Morita, the 44th seed after last Monday's qualifying round, also came away buoyed by his performance in reaching the final after being eliminated in the first round last year.

“;Overall this was a good tournament and a great experience and I want to come back next year and play just as good or even better,”; he said.