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Summer madness tees off for local junior golfers

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Twenty years ago a guy named Eldrick Woods and a girl named Lorena Ochoa captured Callaway Junior World Golf Championships.

Last year, Hawaii’s Eimi Koga joined winners from Canada, India, Mexico, Thailand and Japan. Last month, Koga captured the David S. Ishii Foundation HHSAA girls championship as a Moanalua sophomore.

Yesterday at windy Kaneohe Klipper, summer golf madness officially began at the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association Junior World Qualifier. For most juniors, it is their first shot at national and international exposure. More than 1,100 golfers from 54 countries and 42 states participated last year in San Diego.

The giant leap, particularly for kids isolated in Hawaii, is often taken with tiny feet. Some participants can hide behind their golf bags. The energy level, however, is huge — before, during and after this qualifier.

Waiakea junior Ciera Min and ‘Iolani senior Lorens Chan topped the oldest divisions (15-17). Chan was the only player to break par in yesterday’s gusty winds, firing rounds of 68-70 to earn medalist honors by five shots over Skye Inakoshi.

Chan won state high school and state amateur championships for the second time this year. Monday he tees off in the Manoa Cup, along with Inakoshi and several others who played at Klipper.

Min won with rounds of 76-75 and will go to next month’s Junior Worlds for the sixth time. She remembers her first appearance, at age 8.

"I was extremely nervous, extremely," she said. "It wasn’t even funny how nervous I was. I went up there not knowing what to do. Playing with the really good girls kind of pushed me to want to golf even more and get better. I came back wanting to be like them."

Jino Sohn was the top qualifier in the Boys 13-14 division yesterday after shooting 3-over-par 75 with "five birdies and a lot of mistakes." He will be making his fifth trip to San Diego.

"The first year I noticed I wasn’t good enough to compete with all the people," the Kaimuki Middle School eighth-grader said. "So I tried harder the next year."

He will be spending much of the next two months golfing on the mainland. Min leaves today for the Rolex Girls Junior Championship in Minnesota, which features 22 Rolex All-Americans. She’s back to try and qualify for the U.S. Junior Girls and PGA Junior, then play the HSJGA State Championship the end of the month at Hokuli‘a.

The 12-under HSJGA State Championship begins Monday at Hawaii Prince.

Mariel Galdiano has shined in that event, but now the Maryknoll eighth-grader has moved up to 13-14s; yesterday, she earned medalist honors in that age group. Two weeks ago, she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open.

For kids her age, the prestige of Junior Worlds is pretty much on a par. She has gone to it the last five years and doesn’t remember being nervous the first time "because I was only like 7 — I pretty much didn’t know how to be nervous."

Kengo Aoshima’s 70 on Monday was the only sub-par score outside the Boys 15-17 division and he earned medalist honors in Boys 11-12 at 147. Zoey Akagi-Bustin (78-76—154) led the girls and will make her first trip to San Diego.

Her mother is Vanne Akagi-Bustin, who was Hawaii’s top-ranked women’s tennis player back in the 80s. "She told me," Zoey said, "if I have a bad shot just forget about it. Move on."

Ethan Finau (74-76—150) and Aneka Seumanutafa (80-81—161) led the 9-10 division. Amy Giang (88-85—173) and Isaiah Kanno (83-82—165) earned medalist honors in Hawaii’s youngest age division (7-8).

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