Kua shoots 1-under 69, tops among locals


POSTED: Friday, January 15, 2010

The story goes that T.J. Kua hadn't yet been born when he made his first tour around Waialae Country Club.

It was two decades ago when Kua's expectant mother followed her brother around the course as David Ishii made his historic charge to the 1990 Hawaiian Open title.

“;My dad was joking that I've already walked the course,”; Kua said, “;so I have first-hand experience and know what I'm doing.”;

With his uncle tracking his progress yesterday, Kua made another memorable circuit of the Waialae layout.

Playing in his first round in a PGA Tour event, Kua led the local contingent entered in the Sony Open in Hawaii by shooting a 1-under-par 69.

Kua earned a spot in the field by winning the Amateur Governor's Cup last month and enters today's second round tied for 32nd place and in position to make the cut as the lone amateur in the event with another solid round today.

“;We stood on (the first) tee for a little while and my mind kept going faster and faster,”; said Kua, a sophomore on the University of Hawaii golf team. “;They finally called my name and I was like, 'oh wow.' I was a little bit nervous and wanted to get off that tee really quick. But it's good feeling.”;

After a bogey on No. 3, Kua jump-started his round by making birdie from 24 feet on the par-3 fourth hole.

He graded out at 50 percent in hitting fairways and greens in regulation, but went into the back nine at even par thanks to a birdie on No. 9. He chipped in from the rough on 13 and birdied two of the final three holes to drop into red numbers.

“;It was just so much stress,”; Kua said of his back nine. “;I'd like to take a lot of stress off my game tomorrow and try to keep it more on the short grass.

“;My stats were definitely not good, but I like playing from trouble I guess.”;

After a three-putt for bogey on 14, he drained a 12-foot birdie putt on the 16th then made another clutch putt from 7 1/2 feet to save par on the 17th.

His tee shot on the par-5 18th went into a fairway bunker. After hitting his approach, he chipped to within 3 feet to set up his fifth birdie in the fading daylight.

“;Huge,”; Kua said of the momentum lift to close the round. “;I got to the (18th) tee and said there's no way I'm just going to play it safe down the right. I'm going to try to carry it and if I don't I'll take my chances.”;

Nick Mason, a Leilehua and Hawaii-Hilo product, followed Kua to No. 18 and capped a stirring comeback with a birdie of his own. Mason survived qualifying rounds on Sunday and Monday to make it into his first PGA event and found himself at 4 over after 13 holes. But he rallied with birdies on three of his remaining five holes to climb to 1 over, joining a group that includes Castle graduate Dean Wilson.

Mason's previous experience in the Sony Open consisted of afternoons spent with caddie and UH-HIlo teammate Kellen Anderson as they “;sat outside the ropes for six years and we wished.”;

“;We watched this tournament just hoping one day we'd maybe be able to play,”; Mason said. “;We came back and had a respectable round today and I'm just stoked.”;

Kua and Mason have morning tee times today and hope to face conditions calmer than those that greeted Tadd Fujikawa and Parker McLachlin yesterday.

Fujikawa and McLachlin both shot 2-over-par 72 while dealing with an inconsistent breeze blowing through Waialae in the morning portion, leaving them with some work to do to make the cut.

“;Today could have been a lot worse,”; Fujikawa said. “;Conditions were tough. It was really windy in the morning.

“;Usually you play here, almost 95 percent of the time it's a tradewind. And for some reason around the Sony Open you get Konas and get some weird wind going on and it's just always like that. You never know what to expect this time of year and you just kind of go out there and do the best that you can.”;

McLachlin began his second season with a revamped swing and also closed with a birdie at 18.

“;It was a huge finish for me because I was leaking some oil there coming in,”; he said. “;Just to finish on a positive note like that lunch is going to taste that much better.”;

Hilo's Kevin Hayashi rounded out the group of local players in the 144-player field at 4 over.