Star-Bulletin Sports

[ GOLF ]

Kimberly Kim, 10, teed off on the ninth hole yesterday in the first round of the HSWGA Stroke Play Championship.

Youngsters rule the day

By Cindy Luis

The youth movement in golf is so prevalent these days in Hawaii that a pre-teen doing well in a major tournament is no shock.

Still, when 10-year-old Kimberly Kim whacked her tee shot on the par-4 No. 10 some 220 yards, it surprised some of the older male golfers at the Mid-Pacific Country Club snack shop.

"She hits harder and longer than you, and you've been playing for 40 years," one golfer said to another.

Kim's 78 was good enough to give her a share of ninth place, seven strokes behind leader Stephanie Kono, going into today's second round of the Hawaii State Women's Golf Association Stroke Play Championship.

The Waiakea Intermediate student also earned more than a share of respect from the rest of the record field of 28.

"The poise that young lady showed today was incredible, especially since she didn't know the course," said Bobbi Kokx, who was in the foursome with Kim. "She probably hits 220, 230 off the tee. She has a short iron into a lot of the par-fours. It's straight, it's consistent and she knows what her ball is going to do.


Lisa Kajihara followed through on a drive on the 17th hole yesterday. Kajihara shot a 6-over 78 and is tied with three others, seven strokes behind leader Stephanie Kono

"But the way the young girls are playing, it's not unbelievable any more. They play the game the way it's supposed to be played. Hit the fairway. Hit the green. Get it close. Knock it in. Move on to the next hole. Other people are thinking about everything else. Their focus is the hole."

More than half the field was under the age of 20, including the top five golfers. Kono, a 12-year-old Punahou School student was the only one to shoot under par, helped by a birdie on the par-5 16th.

"I'm happy to break par, it's the first time in a big tournament," said Kono, last year's HSWGA Match Play champion. "Everything was going good with my game today, my putting was better than usual and I was hitting my driver really solid today.

"It's good to be back home. It was a really busy summer with tournaments in San Diego, New Jersey and Idaho."

Also back home after their first collegiate seasons are Merynn Ito (Nebraska) and Rachel Kyono (Pepperdine). The two were tied for second at 1-over 73.

"I took a little break after school and I'm now just getting back into the swing of things," said Kono, who won this event in 2000. "I like this course. It's challenging. I started off slow but then I started getting my confidence."

The wind didn't help on the early holes. It began to die down around noon and the rain held off until all eight groups were back in the clubhouse.

"The wind wasn't that tricky for me," said Kim, who birdied 16. "I kind of feel like the baby out here. But I enjoyed today."

"The wind was a little tough," said Britney Choy, a freshman at Leilehua who is tied for third with Kamehameha sophomore Mari Chun at 74. "What helped me was that my putting was on."

Since Leilehua is a year-round school, Choy was given permission to skip class during the tournament.

Chun, the defending Interscholastic League of Honolulu champion, goes back in a few weeks.

She, too, has had a busy summer with tournaments on the mainland and a week-long band camp; she is in the color guard.

"I feel like an old lady out here," said the 14-year-old Chun.

But when Chun said she liked playing with the "older girls," Bev Kim, who won this event in 1972, gave her a big hug.

"I've been playing since I was 12 and theses days that would be considered a late start," said former University of Hawaii women's golf coach Judy Tonda. "These kids ... they hit so long, so straight. They have no fear."

But those playing in their first non-junior event likely were a bit surprised, said Kokx, this year's match play winner.

"Junior golf is pretty structured and serious," said the 38-year-old, joking that her clubs were older than most of the field. "I'm sure it's kind of a shock for them to play women's golf. They're riding in carts, playing with these older ladies who are a little on the edge.

"We shout at our balls, give high-fives. They're probably thinking that these women are crazy. But they're so cute. Sometimes I forget how young they are and then you see one of them talking to the stuffed animal that is a club cover."

The 54-hole event concludes tomorrow.

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