In a testament to how dominant David Fink was as the 102nd Manoa Cup wore on, and just how scrappy TJ Kua is, a rare pair of matching eagles created barely a ripple on the golf radar yesterday.
Fink won the first four holes — three with birdie — before Kua, the defending champion, wiped the sleep from his eyes in the final at Oahu Country Club. The ‘Iolani graduate pushed his advantage to 7 up after 14 holes and ultimately won, 8 and 7, in a championship scheduled for 36 holes.
It closed quietly, with pars and hugs, on the 29th hole (No. 11). Moments earlier, in a driving rain that is the blessing and curse of lush OCC, Fink had seemingly sealed an idyllic ending.
After hitting his drive on the uphill, 257-yard, par-4 10th just below the green, the Oregon State sophomore chipped softly over the bunker. The ball bounced twice, checked, then slid silently into the hole for eagle as Fink ducked under his umbrella.
Kua had driven to the back fringe and was 45 feet away from defeat. He took one look at his good friend Fink, settled over his golf ball and chipped in for eagle to extend the match.
Fink met Kua in the middle of the green, where they smiled and spontaneously embraced.
"I just put my arms up and gave him a big old hug," Fink said. "There was nothing else I could do. I was at a loss for words. It just shows the type of competitor he is … those kinds of shots, especially toward the end. He was not playing his best today, and to hit that kind of shot near the end … it was a very good next-to-last hole."
Kua knew it was still over — he said later he had known since the 23rd hole — but the "double eagle" moment they shared in the rain was priceless.
"We played 29 holes, and about 27 of those holes he played excellent, said Kua, a University of Hawaii junior from Kauai. "Everything was working for him, and that’s what it takes to win match play."
A day earlier Kua had spoken almost reverently about why he prospered, and was so passionate, in the format. He liked that it was "all in front of you," no one ahead or behind could "light it up" and surprise you.
He never trailed in his six wins last year. This year he had to rally in four of his five victories.
Then Fink was simply phenomenal, "lighting it up" all over Nuuanu Valley. He putted in from the fringe 35 feet away on the first hole and chipped in on the third. Fink collected nine birdies and the eagle in his 29 holes.
In contrast, Kua only saw "sparks of light here and there."
He won the 15th and 16th in the morning to cut his deficit to five when they broke for lunch, which Kua and Fink ate together.
The two-hole "slump" actually helped the 102nd Manoa Cup champion.
"I knew he was such a great competitor and he could bring it back," said Fink, who redshirted his freshman season and hadn’t played a tournament round since last winter. "The holes he won he hit great shots and I was mentally not there. I was thinking ahead and I shouldn’t have and it kicked me in the butt, taught me a lesson."
Kua left a ball in the bunker to lose the 19th hole, but had a 5-footer to win the 20th. He missed it.
He won the next hole when Fink’s drive got away, but lost the next two and never could find the touch and timing that had served him so well the last two years.
Fink had it all.
"He played great, just what we expected," Kua said. "I just couldn’t step it up and keep up with him."
Fink played great from the moment he stepped off the plane a week earlier. He shot a 6-under-par 65 in Monday’s qualifying round at his home course and was seeded second behind the defending champion.
He shot another 65 yesterday morning, and fired a 64 to beat Max Bonk in the third round. Fink won his quarterfinal and semifinal Friday by identical 5-and-4 scores.
"It’s always been my dream to be in the finals and have a chance at this, but I never thought it would come true," he said. "I tried to keep a positive mind. I kept wanting to get here and I cherished the moment. I told myself last night, ‘You are here for a reason.’ "
To become the Hawaii state amateur champion. That it came at the expense of one of his closest friends bothered neither finalist. They have been through good and bad times together before, pulling for each other every moment.
This was Fink’s time, and now he hopes to take his Manoa Cup magic back with him to Corvallis, Ore.
"The biggest thing is not thinking ahead, staying in the moment and cherishing it," Fink said. "Cherishing every shot you have, every opportunity."