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Hawaii juniors going for rare repeat

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    Members of the Hawaii team celebrated a victory in the 2014 Asia Pacific Junior Cup.

The Asia Pacific Junior Cup celebrates its eighth anniversary in two weeks at Waikoloa Kings’ Course. It is a highly competitive junior version of the Ryder and Solheim Cups — without the rancor.

In other words, adults could learn something from these kids, who take APJC’s "Juniors Joining Nations" goal at least as seriously as their golf games. Those games are good enough to claim 2006 U.S. Women’s Amateur champ Kimberly Kim and Hideki Matsuyama, this year’s PGA Tour Memorial winner, as alumni. And still, the juniors have found a way to bridge the language barrier better than Rosetta Stone.

They will be back at it on the Big Island Nov. 8-11, with a Saturday Junior-Am, followed by co-ed team matches (four-ball and alternate-shot formats) Sunday and Monday and singles Tuesday.

A year ago, Hawaii won nine singles matches to capture its second Cup — and celebrated with abandon.

This year’s 16-player teams were chosen through a points system, by the Hawaii State Junior and Japan High School Golf Associations. Japan has some 7,000 golfers ages 13-17 to choose from. The HSJGA has 200, but has given Japan all it can handle — sometimes more — and should again.

Hawaii’s team is anchored by State Amateur Stroke Play champion Kyle Suppa, former State Women’s Match Play champion Allison Corpuz, perennial threat Kyosuke Hara and Rose Huang, who won pretty much every time she teed it up in paradise this summer.

The Cup was created as an "educational and recreational tool" that also had "the ability to bring cultures together and the potential of creating long-lasting bonds," along with elevating awareness of junior golf.

The HSJGA had been laying the groundwork for an international event when Hilton Grand Vacations reached out with a "concept of a junior event that would bring together the youth of different cultures in a friendly tournament," HSJGA President Mary Bea Porter-King recalled, "where they could experience something like no other."

She felt the idea reinforced the mission of HSJGA, "offering juniors of all backgrounds, all economic environments and now, from different countries, the ability to be a part of ‘Juniors Joining Nations.’"

Huang, an ‘Iolani senior headed to Brigham Young on a golf scholarship next fall, got it immediately when she played two years ago.

"The best part definitely had to be the people on the team," she recalls. "Each person added a different type of personality. We all bonded extraordinarily well. The best-est part was that my best golf friend, Aiko Leong, was my roommate."

Along with exceptional roommates and rooms, the golfers enjoy an opportunity to network and raise money for HSJGA and Waikoloa Foundation at the Junior-Am and pursue two $5,000 scholarships, attend a couple parties and play lots of golf.

Most of these golfers will never have another chance like this, which is why this Cup has become so cherished, and so many friendships have come out of it.

"The format of the event combines all aspects of fun competition," Huang says. "It combines girl-boy partnerships, Hawaii team camaraderie, match play, four-ball/four-some, and playing against Japanese kids our age."

This is near the end of a remarkable year for Huang, who has cleared some hurdles as she prepares for the next phase of her golf life.

She won all six HSJGA events she played in 2014, including the King Auto State Junior Championship. She qualified for the U.S. Girls Junior Championship, reaching the Round of 16, and the U.S. Women’s Public Links, where she beat two-time Hawaii State High School champ Mariel Galdiano before falling to NCAA champ Doris Chen.

Huang was 11th at the Junior PGA championship and also qualified for U.S. Junior Girls and Junior Worlds, which she nearly won two years ago. She is ranked 37th nationally on the Junior Golf Scoreboard.

"I was able to qualify for and play well in tournaments that I was not able to do well in before this year, which helped me prove myself," she says. "Also, I got to play against extremely respected golfers."

That includes Chen and California’s Bethany Wu, who is No. 4 in the junior rankings, one ahead of Galdiano. Huang learned a lot about herself this summer, and about golf.

"Bethany’s game is so spotless that I literally felt enlightened after playing with her," Huang marveled. "When I hit the ball close to the hole, she hit it closer. When I birdied, she birdied. When I parred, she birdied."

Some of that will be going on at Waikoloa, only this time the golfers will have a partner to help them the first two days and an opponent who is here, in part, to enhance multi-cultural communication on and off the course.

One of the most lonely sports is also about bonding this time around. Tournament director Karen Murray Boston calls the Cup a "true cultural immersion experience" and respects the goals it has set.

There are still spots available for the Junior-Am. Contact the HSJGA (808-532-0559) for information.

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