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Golfers left their imprints on Hawaii

  • COURTESY OF THE MIYAOKA FAMILY
    Known as “Mightly Mite,” Ken Miyaoka held almost every golf title in Hawaii and played in his first Manoa Cup barefoot because he couldn’t afford shoes.
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Two men who left a unique mark on Hawaii golf were lost within three days of each other when Hawaii Golf Hall of Famers Ken Miyaoka and Morgan Fottrell Jr. died over the past two weeks.

Born May 14, 1928, Miyaoka, 82, played his first Manoa Cup at Oahu Country Club in bare feet in 1944 because he couldn’t afford shoes.

He won his first state amateur match-play championship in 1961 and got five more within 15 years, earning honorary membership to OCC in 1997 for the rest of his life.

Miyaoka, who started smoking at 13, died of lung cancer at the Kailua Hospice last Monday. He had been diagnosed in December. At that point he was still living independently, driving, golfing and taking trips to Las Vegas, where his dream was to hold the dice long enough to buy sons Kel and Lester a house.

“He had a good life,” Kel Miyaoka said. “Your parents can be 100 (years old) when they die and it’s still not easy, but I had a lot of good times with him.”

Fottrell, 88, who was born Aug. 19, 1922, came to Hawaii in the early ’60s as golf advisor for the new Kaanapali Beach Resort. His vision helped make Hawaii a golf destination. He died in Rancho Mirage, Calif., three days before Miyaoka, with third wife Alvida by his side.

Kenneth Kazutoshi Miyaoka was born at Helemanu Plantation in Wahiawa. He led Kaimuki High School to the 1946 Interscholastic League of Honolulu championship and became one of the state’s most accomplished and avid amateurs.

His passion for the game was so consuming he worked nights at Pan Am so he could play Ala Wai — where he met his late wife — during the day. Before that, he worked at a desalinization plant on Eniwetok Atoll and hit balls off a scrub brush nailed to a piece of plywood on the beach.

His success at Manoa Cup was legendary, but “Mighty Mite” Miyaoka practically had a title for every inch of his 5-foot-5, 130-pound frame. He was top amateur at the Hawaiian Open in 1948 and ’50, won bunches of AJA and four-ball titles, represented Hawaii at three USGA Public Links Championships in the ’50s, was low amateur at the Japan Open in 1960 and ’61, and beat pros Doug Sanders and Gordon Rumsey in a 1962 exhibition.

Son Kel said his father was almost as passionate and focused on gambling in Las Vegas, where he could stay at the craps table for hours at a time.

“He was a very good gambler,” Kel said. “You try to stay on the craps table 8 hours. He was even a grinder on the craps table.”

His father might have been the ultimate grinder on the golf course. Miyaoka’s technical strength was his ball-striking, but his real gift was for grinding it out longer than anyone else, which explains all his match-play success.

“I’d talk to guys who were juniors when they played him in the Manoa Cup and they’d say they would blast a drive and come into the green with a wedge,” Kel recalled. “They said, ‘Your dad would hit a 5- or 7-iron and put it on the green 20 feet away, so it was hard to get a wedge close after seeing that.’ His thinking was, if he could throw 18 pars at them he could beat them.”

Not that Miyaoka couldn’t go low.

In the 1975 Manoa Cup final against Owen Douglas, Miyaoka shot 65 in the morning and was 9-under when he won the match 7 and 6.

“He had a wicked short game in that final,” Kel said. “All his pitches and putts were so close they were conceded.”

Services for Ken Miyaoka will be April 30, at 4 p.m., at Hosoi Garden Mortuary. Survivors include his sons and their wives, Mavis and Bonnie, three grandchildren (Haley, Kellianne and Randy) and sisters Beatrice Miyaoka and Jane Takara.

Fottrell was born in San Francisco. He played on San Jose State’s NCAA championship team in 1948 and was inducted with the team into the Spartans’ Hall of Fame 25 years ago.

He served with the U.S. Navy and Merchant Marines in World War II. He became a PGA professional in 1954 and came to Hawaii in 1962 as a golf advisor for Kaanapali Beach, the first master-planned destination resort in Hawaii.

The golf course, designed by Robert Trent Jones, was built along with Royal Lahaina Beach Hotel, Sheraton Maui and a private landing strip for small aircraft as part of the resort’s early construction.

Fottrell opened what was then called the Royal Lahaina Golf Course. Its name was soon changed to Royal Kaanapali and he was ultimately named director of golf, serving in that capacity until 1971.

Fottrell was one of the first to realize the power golf had on tourism. He promoted resort and international golf here and brought the Canada Cup matches, with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, to Maui. That event helped accelerate the pace of development at Kaanapali because it required a minimum number of rooms, forcing owners to add another hotel.

Fottrell was inducted into the Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame in 1993. He had lived in Indian Wells, Calif., since 1973.

Fottrell was married three times. He had a son, Morgan Fottrell III, three step-children (Eric Bundy, Pharyl Mesaros, Pamela Alles) and five grandchildren.

No services were held, but a memorial is planned in California.

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