Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, May 5, 1999

H A W A I I _ G O L F

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin

Jim Seki Jr. works on his short game during
a practice session at the Pearl Country Club.

Seki sets
sights on title

The Punahou senior will go
for his second straight state
prep individual golf championship

By Pat Bigold


At this time last year, Jim Seki Jr. was in the midst of winning three golf tournaments in 14 days, and on the verge of the most competitive summer of his life.

Art But the Punahou senior has been there, done that, and secured a golf scholarship to the Stanford of Tiger Woods and Tom Watson in the meantime.

This week, the state's No. 2-ranked amateur claims he's ready to just enjoy his final rounds as a high school player.

The pressure is there because Seki is the defending champion of the David Ishii/Hawaii High School Athletic Association Boys' Golf Tournament, scheduled for tomorrow and Friday at the Waikoloa King's Course on the Big Island.

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin

Jim Seki Jr. watches his drive during a practice
session at the Pearl Country Club.

No male golfer since Kalani Kiaaina (1993-1994) of Iolani has won back-to-back state prep titles.

Only two other boys have done it in the 32-year history of the tournament: Waiakea's Troy Tamiya (1986-1987) and Campbell's Ralden Chang (1981-1982).

But Seki has decided he owes it to himself and his team to lighten up and just have fun this time.

Seki recently won his second straight Interscholastic League of Honolulu individual title, and is favored to repeat as state champion.

But since putting himself through an unusually intense summer of competition on the mainland last year, Hawaii's most promising young golfer has not been playing up to his own lofty standards.

"The summer tournaments didn't affect me physically, but they were mentally draining," he said.

"I was on the road for six weeks (late June to early August) at one stretch."

He's glad he went through the ordeal because he believes it has matured him. But recovering from the competitive marathon has not been easy.

Seki was red-hot in qualifying for top tournaments like the U.S. Junior Amateur championships at Lake Forest, Ill., the Junior World championships in Torrey Pines, the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championships (also at Torrey Pines) and finally the U.S. Amateur Championships at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.

"It's really pretty amazing for him to qualify for all those in one summer," said Punahou coach Robert Icban.

Seki was the only Hawaii golfer to qualify for Oak Hill, an extraordinary accomplishment for a local high school student.

"I didn't make match-play in the U.S. Amateur, but it was really impressive to be there with people like Steve Scott and Buddy Marucci (both former runners-up to three-time amateur champion Tiger Woods)," said Seki.

"It was by far the toughest event I ever played in. Everybody who is there is somebody. It was exciting."

Seki actually qualified for the U.S. Amateur in mid-August after returning from the six-week tournament run on the mainland.

While a player of his age could not be expected to perform at peak level during such an exhausting schedule, Seki did make his presence felt a few times.

He got to the second round of the U.S. Junior Amateur and upset one of the nation's top collegiate players, Ryuji Imada (Georgia), in the first round of the Public Links. Imada was a former runner-up in the Public Links tournament.

"I sank about a 20-footer for birdie," said Seki. "I drew another college player after that, and didn't beat him. But still I had gone pretty far, considering I barely made it to match play."

In the Junior America's Cup in Arizona, Seki tied for first individually.

"It was a really long haul," said Seki. "I'd never done anything that long on the road, with tournaments constantly."

That long haul was preceded in May 1998 by Seki winning his first open title in the Navy-Marine Invitational (in a playoff), his first ILH title and the HHSAA title.

The scheduling of the HHSAA tournament prevents Seki from defending his N-M crown.

Ishii, the 1990 Hawaiian Open champion who has counseled Seki on his game since he was in the fourth grade, said the 6-foot, 170-pound Washington native is one of the top five prep golfers he's seen play in Hawaii.

He said he truly believes that Seki and his former Punahou teammate, current UCLA redshirt freshman Parker McLachlin (1996 HHSAA champion), could someday be on the PGA tour together.

That's saying a lot.

Ishii points out that only one former Hawaii state prep champion, Lance Suzuki of Kahuku (1969), has ever made it to the PGA tour.

But Ishii said he likes Seki's chances of getting there. He said the 18-year-old, who has a 3.8 grade point average, has a strong work ethic, poise, maturity and consistency.

He also likes his form.

"He has a good setup, a good, solid backswing and follow-through," Ishii said. "He plays very upright . . . and is very methodical."

Ask Seki what he thinks he needs to improve upon and he'll say it's his tendency to dwell on mistakes.

"I have to get past that," he said.

Seki said the challenge of winning an individual HHSAA title on the Waikoloa course could be complicated by the elements.

"If it's windy, you have to stay patient out there," he said. "You know you're going to make bogeys, and you know everyone else is going to make bogeys."

So, Seki's strategy?

"To go out and have fun, because it's my last year," he said.

"Even though I'm the defending champion, and a lot of my peers expect a lot of me -- heck I expect a lot of myself -- this is the very last high school tournament I will ever play in my life," Seki added. "I want to enjoy it."

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