All the golf suspense missing from last weekend’s British Open at St. Andrews could be found at Kalaeloa.
Alika Bell and Rudy Cabalar Jr. created all kinds of fireworks on the back nine Saturday in the final round of the Barbers Point Invitational. Bell ultimately closed his "wire-to-wire" win, shooting even-par 72 to beat the reigning state high school champion by three.
Bell, headed to the University of San Francisco next month, breathed a sigh of relief only after his birdie putt hit the bottom of the final hole.
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Cabalar, a Campbell High School junior, was five back after eight holes, but birdied the next six. When his last birdie fell, while Bell was taking double-bogey, Cabalar led for the first time.
"A complete shift of momentum," Bell recalled.
There would be one more. Bell birdied the next hole while Cabalar’s short game took a sabbatical. The 15-year-old flubbed a chip and three-putted for double bogey, putting Bell back in the lead. He sealed it by playing the final three holes even par.
"It’s one of my biggest wins locally," said Bell, who won two ILH championships at Kamehameha and has top-five finishes at Mamala Bay and the Hilo Invitational. "It was my first win in the state in a long time. I’ve won some Amatour events and junior tournaments, but this is my first big local one and it came against a pretty tough field."
It could not have come at a better time for him. Bell, who turns 18 two days before Christmas, plans to play the Army Invitational and AJGA Junior at Wenatchee (Wash.) next month, then head to USF.
"My game is at a peak," he said. "I still leave a lot out there, but I can see a lot of improvement. I’m swinging real well. I can’t wait for college."
He played with former state high school champion Sean Maekawa the first two rounds at Barbers Point and got even more enthused about taking his game to the next level. Maekawa, who fired a 65 in the final round to finish fourth behind Brandan Kop, is heading into his senior year at Oregon. He told Bell college golf is "an awesome experience."
Bell has also sought advice from former state champs Alex Ching and Kurt Nino, who played for USF. Nino’s scholarship was supplemented by a grant from the Matson Navigation Company that is specifically for Hawaiians. Now Bell is getting the grant.
It does not cover his grandfather, Alexander Bell, but there is little doubt "Blackie" will still follow Alika. Alexander adopted Alika when Alika’s mom died of cancer. Alika was 9 at the time and Blackie introduced him to golf to help the healing process. When Blackie isn’t carrying Alika’s bag, he’s walking with him.
"The game has stuck with me," Alika said. "My grandfather always told me my future was in golf because I was a little light for other sports. He kept me playing, got me into a lot of tournaments and it’s been a good road."
Not that Alika was willing to give up on other sports. He also excelled in football, basketball, track and soccer. But his dedication to golf convinced him to drop each one along the way. It wasn’t easy. When USF encouraged him to give up football and basketball as a junior, he balked, and the compromise allowed him to stick with football. He was a wide receiver on Kamehameha’s state championship team last fall, and knows now he was right to fight for the time.
"I’ll miss football most, especially the way we ended this year with a state championship," Bell said. "You have to be one on a team. Golfers are more individual. In college, golf is a team effort so I kind of have a head start. I’ll miss football a lot, but I know what’s in my future."
So does USF director of golf Gary Nelson. He calls Bell "one of those rare individuals — a four-sport athlete who can still maintain a 3.80 grade point average. As he concentrates on a single sport, his potential is almost limitless."