Nicole Sakamoto, who turns 20 next week, never again has to wonder if she will win a golf tournament at home.
Hopefully Mariel Galdiano, who turned 12 last month, will soon realize she will have many, many more opportunities.
Sakamoto was imperturbable while shooting an even-par 72 at Mid-Pacific Country Club yesterday to win the Hawaii State Women’s Stroke Play Championship by five shots over Hawaii’s latest 12-year-old terror. Galdiano gallantly held off Sakamoto, a junior at James Madison University, for 3 hours, 50 minutes. Then she took a 10 on the next-to-last hole that delayed her dream for a few weeks anyway.
Her final-round 81 was 12 higher than the brilliant 69 she threw at the field Wednesday, but still good for second by a shot over Boise State sophomore Hayley Young (74–225).
Sakamoto’s three-day total of 3-over-par 219 was the lowest winning score in five years. It is also her first major Hawaii women’s title after four years of frustration that included five top-five finishes at this tournament and the Jennie K. (both at Mid-Pac), and a loss to Cyd Okino in the final of the 2008 State Women’s Match Play Championship.
What she learned this week was the value of consistency.
"I have to play consistently good to win at home," said Sakamoto, who captured two college tournaments last season, when she was JMU’s MVP and qualified for NCAA Regionals. "There are a lot of good players at home now, especially the young ones."
She saw nothing strange about chasing a 12-year-old all day. It has become common in paradise, and only made Sakamoto’s breakthrough win on home soil that much more special.
"It feels a little different from winning in college," she said. "I’ve played so many times here and never really won. I feel a little accomplishment. I didn’t pressure out like I usually do."
She admitted to letting her nerves get the better of her in the past, and during Wednesday’s second round. But yesterday was notable only for her relentlessness. She went into the final round four shots behind the baby-faced Galdiano, who starts seventh grade at Maryknoll soon.
In her first state stroke play, Galdiano struggled for the first time yesterday, on the front nine, but still held a one-shot advantage over Sakamoto. The Kalani graduate had birdie putts to tie for the lead at the 11th, 13th, 14th and 15th. None fell while Galdiano gamely made six straight pars.
"I was thinking I’d be chasing her all day from the first hole, actually," Sakamoto said. "When she birdied, I thought, ‘Oh man, I’ll have to grind it out today."
Finally, on the par-5 16th, Sakamoto got a birdie to go in from 10 feet. Her share of first lasted less than 30 seconds. Galdiano tapped in for her first birdie since the first hole, which she birdied all three days.
Disaster struck on Mid-Pac’s nightmarish par-4 17th. From some 100 yards away, Galdiano’s approach shot squirted out of bounds right. She dropped another ball and it happened again.
"I don’t know how to explain it," Galdiano said. "I swing kind of fast at the bottom of my swing sometimes and I shank it. That was the second shank of the day. I did it twice at Leilehua too (when she won her second straight state 12-under title). … I get sloppy on my swing."
Her sixth shot was pulled left and her pitch rolled through the green. When it was over, Sakamoto and Young both looked like they just wanted to hug Galdiano, who stoically parred the final hole and signed her scorecard before the inevitable hit.
She confirmed that after her birdie at 16 she believed two pars could win it, patiently explained what happened on the 17th and graciously called Sakamoto’s performance "pretty good … really consistent."
Then the tears came. She put her head on the scorer’s table and hid her eyes, but her deep disappointment was there for all to see.
"I think," she finally said, without looking up, "I need more practice."
Sakamoto could empathize. She has had more than her share of near-misses and her own golf nightmare at the 17th a few years ago when she took an eight while in contention.
"I just wanted to tell her don’t worry about it," Sakamoto said. "It’s going to happen. I know how you feel."
She was also mature enough to realize that she had played well enough to win, and Galdiano’s game is so special she will have many more chances.
"She is an awesome player," Sakamoto said. "She putts very well, hits the ball well. Her drives are really good. She hits it pretty far for a 12-year-old."
Ashlyn Kawasaki shared low-round honors with Sakamoto on the final day to finish fourth with Hana Furuichi at 231.