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Golfers learn game from ground up at State Jr. Championships

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    The top junior golfers learned rules and etiquette, and some took home trophies yesterday at the King Auto Group 12-and-under State Championships at Leilehua Golf Course. The winners were, from left, Mariel Galdiano, 12 (girls 11-12), Malia Nam, 10 (girls 7-10), Len Yamada, 10 (boys 7-10), and Taisei Negishi, 12 (boys 11-12).

There are no courtesy cars at the King Auto Group 12-under State Junior Championships and golfers are required to write thank you notes before teeing off. That, and an in-your-face pace-of-play format keeps the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association’s next sky-full of stars grounded.

Yesterday’s first tee time was 7:33 a.m. and all 53 finished before 1 p.m., with four check points set up around the course to time, warn and sometimes penalize those falling behind.

These kids are the antithesis of pampered pros, but they, too, can tear up a golf course in all the right ways.

Hilo’s Taisei Negishi threw seven birdies at Leilehua Golf Course yesterday, firing a 6-under-par 69 in the final round to win the Boys 11-12 age division by six shots. Negishi one-putted half the greens.

He started playing golf three years ago and works with Kevin Hayashi on the Big Island. Negishi was the only golfer to break par over the two-day tournament, finishing at 5-under 145.

"My dad introduced me to golf," Negishi said. "It was fun because I was able to hit the ball far and straight."

Kapolei’s Mariel Galdiano came close to finishing under par overall, surging to the Girls 11-12 championship with a 3-under 72 yesterday to close at 151. A few weeks ago, the 11-year-old finished fifth at the Jennie K. Invitational, Hawaii’s most prestigious women’s championship.

Yesterday, she had six birdies to pull away from Ji Hae Lee (76-154) and win her third consecutive state title. Galdiano has been working with Tommy Hines on her game, which has blossomed the past few years.

"It’s kind of fun playing different courses and meeting different people," Galdiano said. "And it’s even more fun when you have a challenge and real good competitors."

But for a triple-bogey yesterday, Honolulu’s Kyle Suppa (77-151) also would have broken par. He had seven birdies in a final round that featured just five pars. Suppa came in second to Negishi.

The older kids (11 and 12) played from Leilehua’s forward tees the past two days (6,133 yards, par 75), with the younger ones (7 to 10) playing it as a par-72 from 4,356 yards.

Len Yamada and Malia Nam captured the 7-10 titles. Yamada was sixth overall after a smooth 1-over 73 yesterday took him to 149. Nam shot 81-76-157 and was 16th overall.

The juniors cut four strokes off their average score Monday, growing comfortable at Leilehua after playing this event at Hawaii Prince the past few years.

Galdiano, Negishi and Yamada were particularly comfortable on the greens.

"The greens were a little slower than yesterday, so I was able to hit it like I’m used to," said Yamada, who turns 11 next month.

He has played golf for less than two years, but pronounces himself "addicted to it" and appreciates the "mental control" it demands.

"I can learn many stuff in life through golf, I have to control my mind," Yamada said. "That’s the best part."

Nam shares his appreciation of the game’s emotional intricacies, but has a little different explanation.

"Staying focused is the hardest thing," she says. "When you do good you always end up doing bad on the next hole because you get too excited."

Many of yesterday’s players qualified for the Junior World Championships next month in San Diego. That event is the highlight of a summer that also includes Adams Golf and Optimist qualifiers tomorrow and Friday at Turtle Bay.

The King Auto Group 13-18 State Junior Championships are July 5 and 6 at The Club at Hokulia, with their Big I qualifier the final day.


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