Coach Ronn Miyashiro hesitated to judge his University of Hawaii men’s golf team after the thunder, lightning, rain and chill that terrorized its season-opening tournament this week.
The Rainbows played 36 holes in 36-degree weather Monday, taking time off only when lightning lit up the Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course in Stateline, Nev. Senior Kamden Brakel played his last hole in the dark.
Hawaii rallied from its last-place perch in the first seven holes of the Wolf Pack Classic’s final round Tuesday morning before it was washed out.
"I couldn’t feel my hands," UH junior TJ Kua said.
"Obviously we weren’t ready for the weather," Miyashiro added. "It was freezing, horrible. You can prepare for rain, but the cold is pretty impossible to prepare for. But, like everyone else, you’ve got to hit the ball, hit it straight and put it in the hole."
That was a problem for last season’s not-ready-for-primetime Rainbows. Kua’s scoring average, dragged down by a late slump, was 73.9; no one else was below 76.
There are seniors this year — both from California — in Brakel and Chris Estes, whose brother John was an All-WAC football player for UH. Their younger, mostly smaller teammates are nine former Hawaii high school standouts trying to help the program hammer out a better way.
Miyashiro has tweaked their practice schedule, combining more conditioning with lifting and adding a fourth mandatory day on the course. The school has signed contracts with Olomana, Pearl, Koolau and Turtle Bay that allow the Rainbows to practice freely.
Now, they have to execute. In the ugliness of Edgewood — ironically one of the most beautiful courses on the planet — Miyashiro thought he saw reason for optimism.
His team, admittedly after "a little lecture," was 10 shots better in Monday’s frigid second round, a switch from last season. Even the players’ frustration with getting Tuesday’s good start nullified encouraged the coach.
"We’re a lot better than last year," Miyashiro insisted. "The scores didn’t show it, but potential-wise we’re lots better. We have less excuses this year. We have much more competition at practice.
"I’m enthusiastic. People see our scores and might not be, but I am. I see changes in the boys, in their attitude and work ethic. To me, that’s the first step in getting us back where we should be."
The Rainbows play again in California in two weeks. Their next three tournaments are in Hawaii — the Kauai Collegiate at Puakea (Oct. 24-25), the UH-Hilo Invitational at Waikoloa (Feb. 2-4) and the John A. Burns Intercollegiate at Leilehua (Feb. 16-18).
There is time to get comfortable, and thaw out. Miyashiro’s goals are realistic and straightforward: improve every tournament and peak for the Western Athletic Conference championship in May at Las Vegas.
Kua’s wish is for something even simpler, an easy feeling he found this summer at home.
Over a three-week period, the Kamehameha graduate out of Lihue shot 64 to set the course record at Puakea, another 64 at Kiahuna and a 66 to win the Princeville Invitational. Those last two could also be course records, but Kua was told both times that the course could not be sure.
The 2009 Manoa Cup champion explained his scorching streak with a shrug.
"I was relaxing and enjoying myself out there and not putting pressure on every shot," he said. "Believing what I can do. When I question myself and doubt my swing, it’s hard to get comfortable. Those three weeks, I stood over every shot knowing what I was going to do."
Earlier this week, he stood over every shot "wondering where I’d hit it." Monday he claimed just "one solid shot" in 149 swings. His goal this season is to park his scoring average near par, earn a few top-five finishes and reach NCAA regionals. He plans to go about it less aggressively than he did at Edgewood.
"I think we all need to keep the mind-set of not being so aggressive," Kua said. "Play straightforward and simple golf, not go for birdies from tough places. I’m guilty of that. I went for shots that were not so smart this week."
Punahou graduate Alex Ching, one of Kua’s closest friends, found a happy medium at Tahoe. Ching took a two-shot lead into Tuesday’s final round and won the tournament when rain cut the day short. The Rainbows and Ching’s San Diego teammates, who won the team title, moved indoors where it was warm.
"We spent a lot of time with their team, a little bowling action," Kua said. "They smoked us in that, too. Alex is just awesome. That’s a great team and it gets along. He has a bunch of guys who support him and have got his back. That helps you to play well."
Hawaii is hoping to find that feeling as well.