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Hall of Famer had gift for golf and jokes

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Hawaii lost another unique link in its golf history Saturday when Masa Kaya died of pneumonia. Kaya, inducted into the Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame in 1993, turned 84 a day earlier.

He leaves Molly, his wife of 61 years, five children, nine grandchildren, one great grandchild and three siblings.

There are also many, many great golf stories, most ending with a punchline. Kaya was a joker who hid his sense of humor behind dark glasses and a straight face. Those who played with him — and his best golf came in the early 1960s when many of Hawaii’s finest were in their prime — would always have a funny story to share.

David Ishii, another Hall of Famer who is about 30 years younger than Kaya, recalls playing with him as a nervous 14-year-old junior at the Navy Marine Open.

"I was from Kauai, my first time in a big tournament with the men," Ishii said. "On the first hole, I hit a ball down the fairway. We’re walking down and Masa goes, ‘Are you playing a PGA No. 4 (golf ball) with a red mark underneath?’ I said yeah and he goes, ‘That’s the exact ball I’m using.’ I was going, naaah, can’t be. Then he goes, ‘Nah, nah, nah, just joking.’

"It was my first experience with Masa Kaya, and I was shocked. His name was famous. All I knew was his name. I was kind of scared to play with him. Then he did that on the first hole, and I got all flustered."

From that funny and frozen moment, a fast friendship developed. It was one of many for Kaya. Allan Yamamoto, another Hall of Famer, grew up six doors down from Kaya’s family at a Spreckelsville plantation camp on Maui. Masa’s father was the caddie master at Waiehu Municipal, where he learned to golf.

Years later, after Kaya and Yamamoto moved to Oahu, the two former baseball players often golfed together. They won the 1963 Francis I’i Brown Four-Ball tournament. Kaya also won the 1965 Army Open, and the Pali Men’s Invitational, Maui Open and State AJA championships twice each.

When Kaya captured the 1962 Maui Open as an amateur, he beat Ted Makalena by two. The two were a fixture at Ala Wai in those days, with Yamamoto, Billy Arakawa and Walter Kawakami. That was when "woods" were actually made of wood, and Yamamoto remembers Makalena and Kaya choking up on their drivers to get the proper feel, moving their grip particularly when it was wet and the club’s weight changed as it collected moisture.

Kaya’s golf gift was his length. He was only 5 feet 7, but he outdrove almost everybody, lifting his front foot before he hit to produce more power.

"You could see daylight under his foot," Yamamoto recalled. "Sometimes we would lay down on the tee to see how much and give him a hard time. Then he’d top the ball."

Kaya had a simple, sweet swing and a love for the game and competition. "He was just competing to win," says son Michael Kaya, who often caddied for him. "Maybe at that time there were a lot of good guys, so he had to be at his best to be competitive."

Masa was a bus driver for the "Honolulu Rapid Transit" by trade, but really he was a golfer. So much so that a few times he entered tournaments under another name when they conflicted with his driving schedule. He became Pearl Country Club’s first head pro and spent his later years repairing clubs.

Golf was his passion, along with his family. He became a pretty gifted grandfather, too.

"When we were growing up, everybody catered to him. Mom was waiting on him all the time. He never did anything," Michael recalled. "Later on in life he really changed and became a helping hand to my mom. He helped raise the grandkids and really changed. But his passion was golf to the end."

When Aloha Section PGA Executive Director Hal Okita had a heart attack, the first golfer he saw in his room the next day was Kaya, with Molly as always — and a big smile, as always.

"He was always positive, always a gentleman, always smiling and encouraging others," Okita said. "He was not full of rah, rah, rah, but always so positive. The last few years he was not real well, but whenever I saw him he always had the smile."

Services will be Nov. 28 at noon at Hosoi Garden Mortuary.

 

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