A little tenacity and a lot of luck and Blake Snyder lifted Hawaii-Hilo to the Pacific West Conference golf title last week In Utah. On Monday, the Vulcans’ roller-coaster season speeds on at the NCAA Division II West Regional at the University of New Mexico’s Championships Course in Albuquerque.
The NCAA tournament involves 80 teams and 32 more golfers who qualified individually. The top five teams from each of the four super regionals advance to the final, May 16-20 at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at The Shoals in Florence, Ala.
Snyder, a freshman from Seattle, was the only golfer to break par at the PacWest championships at Sunbrook Golf Club in St. George. His 3-under 213 total was three better than Brigham Young-Hawaii’s John Scholari.
Snyder is the PacWest co-player of the year and freshman of the year. He is also one of four freshmen UHH coach Earl Tamiya will take to New Mexico, along with senior Neil Cabico from Lanai.
A year ago, without those freshmen, the Vulcans finished fourth in the conference, just two years after winning it all. Even this season, their best finish was fifth before last week.
"With freshmen, the whole thing is you never know what’s going to happen," Tamiya says. "You try to get them away from the high school mentality and junior golf mentality that 76 is a good number. Back there, 75 or 76 is decent, but in college that is nothing. You’ve got to be around par. The big thing the young ones learn is to be patient. They want to score so bad that everything is go, go, go."
Hilo’s patience won a ticket to the NCAA tournament. Its 880 team total beat two-time defending champion Grand Canyon by one shot and Dixie State by two. Dixie’s No. 1 player finished bogey-bogey. GCU’s top player double bogeyed the final hole.
"They didn’t know where they stood, they thought they had to catch us, thought they had to gamble," Tamiya said. "They gambled and lost."
No one caught Snyder, a snowboarder who contacted Tamiya about playing for UHH.
Travis Russell, a freshman from Costa Mesa, Calif., also recruited himself. The hyper guy nicknamed "Jitters" took seventh at the PacWest tourney.
Both mainland recruits arrived with talent, it just needed to be tamed.
The rest of the Hilo roster is home grown.
Cabico, ‘Iolani graduate Corey Kozuma and Lahainaluna’s Chris Shimomura earned top-16 PacWest finishes and tickets to Albuquerque.
"The kids blend together well," Tamiya says. "They get along and support each other, good or bad. Everybody knows where they are now. They know they have to help. Everybody respects each other and they play together."
Snyder, Russell and Scholari were named to the All-PacWest first team as top-seven finishers, while Cabico, Hawaii Pacific’s Ale Radice-Fossati and Brigham Young-Hawaii’s Skylar Schone earned a place on second team with top-14 finishes.