Thursday, November 26, 2015         

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Steady Sakamoto takes state stroke-play crown

By Ann Miller


Kalani High graduate Nicole Sakamoto has played four golf tournaments in Hawaii the past two years and won them all, holding off every precocious challenger.

Sakamoto captured her second straight State Women's Stroke Play Championship on Thursday at Mid-Pacific Country Club. It came six days after the James Madison senior successfully defended her state match-play title.

Cyd Okino, a Punahou graduate about to start her collegiate career at the University of Washington, was second both weeks.

Sakamoto closed with a 1-under 71 Thursday to tie the tournament record of 4-under 212 set by Stephanie Kono in 2003. Okino also shot 71 to finish five shots back in the next-to-last group.

"I was thinking maybe if I shot 68 I might have a realistic chance," Okino said. "But I knew watching her practice that she's not going to make many mistakes at all."

The only golfer who had a realistic shot at catching the imperturbable Sakamoto the final day was 15-year-old Ciera Min. She was right with her for 3-plus hours.

The Waiakea junior, who works with Hawaii Golf Hall of Famer Kevin Hayashi in Hilo, was playing her first adult event. She trailed by one going into the final round and led after Sakamoto bogeyed the first two holes.

After 13 holes they were tied and no one else was within six.

"Everything about her game," Sakamoto said of Min, "is good."

Min's bogey at No. 14 gave Sakamoto the lead alone. A spike-mark-induced double bogey at No. 17 left Sakamoto two up going into the final hole. Min pulled her drive behind a tree and ended up taking nine, finishing with 77 and a stunned look even her upbeat personality could not hide.

"I was looking at my scorecard on 16 and I told my caddie, ‘I have all these fours. I want something lower than a four,'" Min said. "Then I doubled for a six, then I had a nine.

"Learning experience, I guess. Anything can happen, at any time. Definitely. Never give up."

It was similar to last year, when 12-year-old Mariel Galdiano — who qualified for the U.S. Women's Open this year —led Sakamoto by a shot going into the 17th, only to take a 10. "I just kept it together longer," Sakamoto explained. "I've been through everything."

Both juniors, so spectacular for so long in their adult debuts, could not keep up with Sakamoto. No one could and no one has the past two years, with coach/Hall of Famer Lance Suzuki on her bag.

Sakamoto might not be the most gifted or talented female golfer in Hawaii, but she has been the most consistent here the past two summers. It has made the difference, along with the confidence that comes from qualifying for NCAA Regionals and winning here after six frustrating top-five finishes.

"It's getting easier to control my game, I guess," Sakamoto said. "And my nerves."

College experiences will come soon for Okino, a two-time state match play champ. Galdiano; Min, who was third at 219; and 13-year-old Allisen Corpuz (76—220), who finished fourth, will get them in time.

"I'm still worried about them," Sakamoto said. "They are only going to get better."

Sakamoto graduates in May with a major in sports management and a minor in business. She plans to turn pro after next summer and hopes to return for the Jennie K. Invitational — the year's first local major — for the first time since she started college.

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