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Sakamoto survives Galdiano's short game

By Ann Miller


For the second time in two weeks, Nicole Sakamoto was good to the last shot to win a major Hawaii women's golf event, while 12-year-old Mariel Galdiano was one swing short.

In a final in which momentum came and went at the whim of remarkable shots, Sakamoto hit the last best shot yesterday to beat Galdiano, 1 up, for the Hawaii State Women's Golf Association Match Play Championship at Oahu Country Club. Both would have been under par if it had been stroke play.

Iolani graduate Charlee Kapiioho won the inaugural A flight, 6 and 5, over Marleen Bildeaux. Kapiioho, an 8-handicapper who hopes to walk on at the University of Hawaii, gave Bildeaux 14 shots in the flight's net format.

Sakamoto hit spectacular chip shots on the final three holes of the championship flight to fend off another preteen Hawaii golf terror. Allisen Corpuz made history last year as the youngest match-play champion, becoming the third 11-year-old to win since Stephanie Kono in 2001.

Sakamoto's first clutch chip died on the lip at the 16th. The gimme par tied the match when Galdiano had a rare miss from inside 10 feet.

On the next hole, Sakamoto's short approach landed softly on the front of the green and still skidded off the back. She hit the ball even softer coming back, stopping it 5 feet short, then poured in the par putt to tie.

At the 18th, Galdiano drilled her second shot some 120 yards into the wind and it stopped 6 feet right of the hole. Sakamoto hit her second shot fat from inside 100 yards. It stopped just below the green.

It was not a bad miss. She chipped this one to the lip, too. With par in hand, she watched Galdiano stare at her scary downhill, downwind, downgrain putt to win.

The Maryknoll seventh-grader gently tapped the ball and it lipped out. As about a dozen people watched in amazement, the putt picked up speed and rolled off the green, another victim of OCC's quirky layout.

"I was thinking either two-putt or make it," Galdiano said. "Then I was like, 'Wow, that rolled really fast.'"

She stared in shock and finally walked off the chip shot she now needed just to get to a playoff. Her attempt came up short.

It was the first final to go the distance since Cyd Okino became the youngest champion in 2005. Okino won again two years ago, beating Sakamoto. Until two weeks ago, the James Madison junior was zero-for-Hawaii majors, with that loss and five top-five finishes in the Jennie K. and State Stroke Play.

But 2010 has seen a major breakthrough. Sakamoto qualified for NCAAs in the spring with six top-10 finishes, including two wins, and was named JMU's MVP. She tied for fifth, with Galdiano, at the Jennie K.

Then she chased down Galdiano on Stroke Play's final day. Sakamoto had the best winning score in five years and still needed a mistake from the 12-year-old on the next-to-last hole to beat what she calls Galdiano's "awesome" short game.

"I don't look at her as a 12-year-old," Sakamoto said. "Her demeanor ... she just handles it really well."

Galdiano's first summer of open competition opened eyes to her precocious short game and composure. But she is still looking for her first "adult" win.

"I'm close, I guess," she said. "She just played her game, I played my game and it turned out that she is really good."

Sakamoto started out eagle-birdie for the second straight day to go 2 up, but Galdiano caught her before the turn with the beginning of a bunch of clutch putts. Sakamoto went 2 up again when she sank a 12-foot birdie putt at No. 10 and a 5-footer at No. 12.

The kid came back. Galdiano nearly holed a 20-footer to win the 13th and hit to 5 feet on the next hole to tie the match. She took her only lead when she drained a 12-foot downhill birdie putt on 15.

Then Sakamoto, whose pure swing produces a vaunted power game, went into overdrive fueled by her own sweet short game.

"I had to play really well," Sakamoto said. "Had to make birdie to beat her."

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