Sports The skinny on Kua: Kauai kid got game By Ann Miller Feb. 23, 2012 Mahalo for supporting Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Enjoy this free story! STAR-ADVERTISER FILE / 2010TJ Kua bolted from 92nd to 53rd in the Golfstat rankings after beating eight higher-ranked golfers in the John A. Burns tournament. Read more Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser! You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription. Subscribe Now Read this story for free: Watch an ad or complete a survey Log In Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story. Activate Digital Account Print subscriber but without online access? Activate your Digital Account now. TJ Kua might be as skinny as a 6-iron and look as intimidating as a pink golf ball, but the guy from Kauai is a prime example of why the late John A. Burns put his formidable name and support behind University of Hawaii athletics. The former governor wanted to give the Rainbows the opportunity to play against the best collegiate competition, so they could see what was out there — some 2,500, 3,500 or 4,500 miles away —and gauge their own athletic gifts. What better way to become competitive? Soon after Burns died in 1975, UH founded and named one of the country’s finest collegiate golf tournaments after him. Last week Kua — all 5 feet 8 and 123 pounds of him — tied for eighth at the 36th annual John Burns Intercollegiate. He was one of only 11 golfers to go under par in the final round at Turtle Bay’s Palmer Course, sinking a back nine full of six-footers as conditions grew gustier. "He is consistent …," said UH coach Ronn Miyashiro. "He works so hard on the details of his golf swing. Nobody is perfect, but he wants to be as perfect as possible. That allows him to be above and beyond a lot of other people. A bad round for him is 1 or 2 over. He doesn’t get a bad round of 80, and when he struggles he’s figured out how to keep himself in contention." At the beginning of the month, Kua blew by 13 ranked golfers in UH-Hilo’s Amer Ari Invitational at Waikoloa Kings’. He began Burns week 92nd in the Golfstat rankings, which go 250 deep. After beating eight higher-ranked players in an event where the top five teams were all ranked in the Top 25, Kua bolted to 53rd. Only three other Hawaii golfers are in the ranking — Kua’s good friend Alex Ching (32), who is a senior at San Diego, Kua’s teammate Cory Oride (162) and UH-Hilo’s Travis Russell (220). On Tuesday, Kua earned Western Athletic Conference player of the week honors for the third time. But, unless the Rainbows win their final WAC championship next month, he will have to do more. To qualify for the NCAA tournament in his senior year, he needs to be among the top 12 golfers not on a qualifying team. He is doing his best to prove Burns’ theory that Hawaii athletes have it in them. "His desire to be the best has never changed," Miyashiro said. "That’s one of those traits you’d like to have the other guys see and follow. In that sense, he’s been a great example for working hard and being the best you can be." Kua, who boarded at Kamehameha Schools in high school, has three top 10s in five starts this season and has dropped his scoring average below 72. He has led the Rainbows in 20 tournaments in his career. In one torrid stretch after his freshman year, he became the first left-hander in 30 years to win the Manoa Cup, then qualified for the Sony Open in Hawaii and won the State Stroke Play. You won’t hear any of that from him. Kua is thoughtful and immensely polite — far too polite to point out what he has done for a team struggling to shoot par, particularly in final rounds. His only regret in four years at Manoa is he didn’t "bulk up more," but "as far as my game goes, it only is where it is today because of what I learned the last four years, so I don’t think I could expedite that." Kua can thank Burns and a few uncles for much of his golf education. At this month’s Hawaii tournaments he played with three golfers ranked in the top five. In the past two years, he has teed it up twice with UCLA sophomore Patrick Cantlay, the world’s top-ranked amateur. "I’ve learned a whole lot playing with better guys," Kua said, giving even more credence to Burns’ theory. Practice can also be enlightening, with his team and when he works on his own at Pearl Country Club with Hawaii Golf Hall of Famers David Ishii — his real uncle — and "Uncle Allan" Yamamoto. "My swing is probably still as iffy as it was back when I won Manoa Cup," Kua said, "but course management and the way I see things now is a little different. I talk with Uncle Allan and he tries to get me to imagine things … just my trust is a little different. He told me not to worry about things too much …just worry about the shot you are hitting." The sociology major’s plan now is to graduate this fall and stay amateur at least long enough to try and earn another exemption into the Sony. He has time to figure out if he is meant to be a pro and move to Asia or the mainland. "My passion for golf goes up and down," admitted Kua, whose first tournament, at age 8, was named after grandfather Chica Ishii. "After a good week, I really want to get to the next level. If I’m not doing well, I wonder if this is the right thing and should I do something else in my career. Right now I’m in the middle. I really want to play, but I can see how it might not pan out that way. I’m just trying to work hard now and hope it pays off later." Hawaii plays in the Wyoming Desert Classic this weekend in Palm Desert, Calif. 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