No matter what happens this morning in the State Women’s Match Play Championship final, there is no doubt Nicole Sakamoto and Mariel Galdiano are the dominant players in women’s golf in Hawaii this summer.
They tied for fifth at the Jennie K., the first women’s major in May. Two weeks ago, Sakamoto overcame the 12-year-old to win the state stroke-play title.
Today will determine bragging rights before both go back to school — Sakamoto is a junior at James Madison and Galdiano will be in seventh grade at Maryknoll.
They were dominant from the opening moments of their semifinal matches yesterday at Oahu Country Club. Galdiano won the first three holes against University of Portland senior Lisa Okazaki and never let her lead get below two, winning 5 and 4.
"She is really mature, very calm and controlled and I think that’s really important for a golfer," said Okazaki, a 20-year-old Mid-Pacific Institute graduate, who won the OCC Women’s Invitational last year. "Especially at that age … to be able to control how you’re feeling on the course and how you’re playing. I think she has it.
"I don’t mind losing to her — to this 12-year old it’s OK."
Galdiano held off the 20-year-old Sakamoto for most of the final round two weeks ago before faltering on the next-to-last hole. Okazaki and Sakamoto both rave about her short game. It is her best asset, thanks to hours on the practice greens and her regular game with kids her own age at Hickam’s par-3 course.
Sakamoto’s summer has been even better than Galdiano’s. Her stroke-play win was a major breakthrough after a string of top-five finishes, including a loss to Cyd Okino in the match-play final two years ago.
Sakamoto reversed that yesterday against Okino. She started eagle-birdie-birdie-birdie to go 3 up. Okino, a two-time champ who won her first match-play title at 11, cut her deficit to one on the 11th hole, but got no closer and lost 3 and 2.
"After the par-3 (No. 11), when I kinda messed up, I started hitting the ball again," Sakamoto said. "I got anxious and started pulling a lot of balls before that."
She hit the straight switch and blasted her second shot — with an iron — to the green on the uphill, par-5 13th. Birdie followed two delicate putts to put her 2 up again. She put her second shot within 5 feet on the next hole for another birdie.
Okino, a Punahou senior who just returned from playing on the triumphant Hawaii team at the Girls Junior America’s Cup, was not going to catch up.
"She actually could have made more birdies today, too," Okino said of Sakamoto, who was 4 under for the day. "She has gotten more consistent with everything and her putting was good today. … Her short game got better than what I remember."
Galdiano saw it up close two weeks ago. This morning, when they tee off at 7 a.m., she will get yet another look at James Madison’s MVP. What has she learned from her near-misses this summer?
"I learned that even though you’re not the best you just have to keep trying," Galdiano said.