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Top young Hawaii golfers sign at kickoff to Asia Pacific Jr. Cup

    Top junior golfers competing in the Asia Pacific Junior Cup on the Big Island signed national letters of intent yesterday. Choosing their colleges yesterday were, from left, Alina Ching (Pepperdine), Cassy Isagawa (Oregon), Alice Kim (Gonzaga), Ryan Kuroiwa (Hawaii) and Cyd Okino (Washington).

Waikoloa’s Kings’ Course will be the site of a whole lot of lifetime memories this week.

At yesterday’s opening ceremony for the fourth annual Asia Pacific Junior Cup, five members of the Hawaii team signed national letters of intent for golf scholarships at Division I schools in the fall. For the next three days, 16-player teams (10 boys, six girls) from Hawaii and Japan will participate in the Junior Cup, a Ryder Cup-style tournament that features team matches the first two days and singles matches Saturday.

Japan has won the Silver Tiffany Trophy two of the first three years, when the event was called USA Hawaii-Japan Junior Cup. Last year the result was decided on the 18th green of the final match. Hilton Grand Vacations is the tournament title sponsor. Proceeds benefit the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association and Waikoloa Foundation.

Yesterday, University High’s Alice Kim (Gonzaga), Punahou’s Alina Ching (Pepperdine) and Cyd Okino (Washington), Aiea’s Ryan Kuroiwa (Hawaii) and reigning state high school champion Cassy Isagawa (Oregon), a Baldwin senior, signed their letters at the Cup’s opening ceremony.

HSJGA member Michelle Condry, also a member of Punahou’s state championship team last season, will play for San Francisco. She is not on the Big Island this week.

The scholarships are a precious payoff for years of athletic and financial commitment.

Okino started playing tournaments at age 7. She has golfed in 27 states, won more than 30 titles and played 12 USGA events, including the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open. She captured two Hawaii State Women’s Match Play Championship titles, the first at age 11, and won three straight Hawaii State Open women’s titles.

Father Cyrus, a driving teacher, estimates the Okinos have spent $100,000 on travel and equipment.

Qualifying for the Asia Pacific Junior Cup is also a reward. Isagawa is playing in her fourth. She now knows how to concede a hole in Japanese and appreciates the different mind-set team play presents.

"You can’t really be thinking about yourself anymore," Isagawa says. "You have to think about your partner. If you’re not playing your greatest and your partner is playing well, no matter how frustrated you are, you have to keep it together and support your partner and team."

Isagawa has enjoyed a remarkable year, which she attributes to eight years of hard work with coach Brenda Rego. This summer she was second at Junior Worlds, co-medalist at the Girls Junior America’s Cup, helping Hawaii to its first team title in 18 years, and won the 35th Junior PGA Championship.

That brought her a place on the Junior Ryder Cup team and a trip to the mecca of golf, St. Andrews in Scotland. Isagawa called the trip "a huge thing for me."

She is currently 23rd in the Polo Junior Ranking, up nearly 300 spots from the summer of 2009, when Oregon first started showing interest. Over spring break, Isagawa visited Pepperdine, California, USC, Oregon and Stanford.

"All the schools said they were keeping an eye on me, but they didn’t have a guaranteed scholarship except for Oregon," Isagawa recalled. "I have to say, when I went to Oregon and saw the facilities and everything, I knew I’d be able to fit in. I could adapt to the weather and environment. I felt at home there."

She came back, talked to her parents and Rego, and verbally committed a week later, then started winning everything in sight. Yesterday’s signing sets her up for new friends and a different level of competition, lots of studying and four years of practice at Eugene Country Club. The course was part of what attracted her to Oregon. So was a state-of-the-art teaching system that can video her swing and allow "Auntie Brenda" the opportunity to give her immediate feedback from 2,500 miles away.

Six-figure investments, overseas coaching and international matches — welcome to the new world of junior golf.


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