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StarBulletin.com

Merkle retains state golf title


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POSTED: Thursday, May 07, 2009

KAANAPALI, MAUI » A car alarm blared near the 17th green of the Royal Kaanapali Golf Course as Kristina Merkle lined up her putt.

The disturbance distracted the Moanalua senior — for the briefest of moments. She gathered herself, calmly sunk the 6-footer and marched on to her second straight David S. Ishii Foundation/HHSAA Girls Golf Championship with a two-day total of 145.

The alarm might as well have been Merkle's victory horn. Several times, she was tantalizingly close to pulling away from the field before settling for a five-stroke advantage over runner-up Kelli Oride of Kauai High. Despite some birdie putts that stubbornly lipped out, she was a beacon of consistency in a tournament that rewarded safe and steady play. Merkle carried par most of the day — carding two birdies against three bogeys — before she played it safe on the final hole for a 1-over 72.

Merkle's parents walked the course behind her to watch her final high school golf event, and she won a bet with them for new shoes after winning the title. The bubbly Merkle didn't think it was possible to have a better ending to her high school golf career, with one exception.

“;No, not really, actually. Maybe if our team won states, too, that would have helped,”; Merkle said. “;But I'm really happy with what happened today.”;

Punahou earned a three-peat for the girls team title, headed up by a fourth-place individual performance from sophomore Alina Ching (152). The Buffanblu outlasted a confident Baldwin team (playing on its home island) by five strokes, 469-474.

“;The challenge this year was they played well all through the ILH season,”; Buffanblu coach Ed Kageyama said. “;And I didn't want them coming into this tournament thinking it was going to be easy. It was good competition — all the girls, all the teams played well.”;

Merkle's playing partners, Ching and third-place Cassy Isagawa of Baldwin (151), knew exactly what to expect from the defending state champion. And they were still awed by her crushing drives and composure against the speedy greens, which added difficulty on a vog-clogged day. No player carded a round in the red.

“;Her mental game is incredible,”; said Isagawa, a sophomore. “;She does whatever it takes to just get that putt in the hole and she's a really good player, a long-ball player. It was kind of a lot of pressure when I walked out. Kristina IS the winner from last year, and Alina, she was in it last year as well.”;

Merkle entered the day up by a stroke over Isagawa, Ching and Oride, and held firm when Ching birdied the first hole and moved into a first-place tie.

While Ching stayed with the University of Tulsa-bound Merkle for nine holes, everything fell apart after the turn. Ching went from two strokes off the overall lead to six back after four rally-killing bogeys on Nos. 13 through 16.

When Merkle drained an 8-foot birdie on 15 and offered a fist pump, it was all but over.

“;I was putting myself in all the wrong places on my approach. But Kristina played great and she just blew right past me,”; Ching said. “;She's been like that since forever. So it seems normal for her, and I'm just playing catch-up the whole time. She's great, she's so consistent.”;

Isagawa dug herself a hole early with a double bogey on her first hole. But the Maui Interscholastic League champion gained confidence over the day, and carried a huge smile on her face after dropping a tough birdie on No. 9 that hung on the lip for about 5 seconds.