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When golf is a means to an end

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    Punahou JV golf coach, right, with 2013 Kauai High graduate Pono Tokioka at the World Deaf Golf Championships in 2014.

Gerald Isobe has traveled more than 166,000 miles to play in U.S. and World Deaf Golf championships since he won the inaugural national championship in 1982.

It has always been about the journey and the destination. Golf has been a means to an end, a forum for exposing others to people who cannot hear, so they can see the big picture.

"I would encourage the parents of any disabled child to get them involved with sports. It develops confidence."

Gerald Isobe
Punahou JV golf coach

Isobe, a college All-American at Rochester Institute of Technology and Punahou’s JV golf coach for 12 years, will be inducted into the U.S. Deaf Golf Association Hall of Fame Friday. He is part of its fifth class, among the first 25 players and leaders to be honored, and the first from Hawaii.

The mission of the Hall of Fame is basically a description of Isobe’s life. It speaks of preserving history, recognizing lifetime achievements, providing role models and promoting awareness of "exemplary play and leadership in America’s deaf golf community."

Only you can delete the words "deaf golf." Isobe has led an exceptional life without any qualification.

"He’s one of the most upstanding people I know," says Punahou golf coach Ed Kageyama, who nominated Isobe to the Hall and coached his kids. "He’s always looking out for the other person and willing to help out. Although we never coached at the same time, having spent time with him on and off the course, he’s someone I truly respect."

Isobe is in Urbana, Md., this week playing in another U.S. Championship. The 1971 McKinley graduate is hovering near the top of the senior flight at the midway point. A top-five finish will get him into his sixth World Deaf Golf Championship.

Pono Tokioka, a 2013 Kauai High graduate, is also hovering up high in the Men’s Division. He met Isobe when he was 8 and nine years later became the youngest American ever to play in the World Deaf Championship, and had a golf scholarship to the University of Hawaii.

Isobe knows what that kind of success can inspire, and has known since that win in Connecticut in 1982 at the first national championship.

"Winning a championship is always a life-changing event," he says. "It is hard to explain. It has brought me opportunities that I cannot quantify and humbled recognition in ways that I am never going to forget and for that I am forever grateful."

It played a part in then-Punahou athletic director Chris McLachlin’s decision to hire him in 1992 for the JV golf program. Isobe, an accountant in his 35th year as a federal civil service worker, coached girls and boys.

He put together lesson plans designed for each player’s unique qualities and emphasized goals, focus and interaction, using flip cards and building faith to communicate.

Isobe also golfed with McLachlin’s son, future PGA Tour player Parker, in the Ted Makalena Four-Ball Championship four times. He’s got game and has had it seemingly since his parents encouraged him to get involved in sports at McKinley so he could be part of a team.

"I would encourage the parents of any disabled child to get them involved with sports," says Isobe, who suffered more than his share of bullying. "It develops confidence."

Their son was the first deaf student "mainstreamed" into the regular school system. Guidance counselor Gail Sykes played a huge part in his high school life, pushing him to pursue his passions in a system that, in a pre-Americans with Disabilities Act time, offered him little help. He also grew close to Richard Haru and Yasu Yorita, athletes and classmates who have remained good friends.

Isobe thrived in college, becoming Rochester Institute of Technology’s first All-American in 1975, getting named a Distinguished Alumnus in 1988 and being inducted into its Sports Hall of Fame 2001. He was also named one of the U.S. Jaycees’ "Ten Outstanding Young Americans" in 1987 and inducted into McKinley’s Hall of Honor in 1999.

But, this week especially, Isobe will always point to that 1982 national golf championship — where he wore four layers of clothing to keep his 130-pound frame warm — as a major turning point.

"Winning was a confidence booster," he says. "It showed me that I could do it. That a deaf golfer from Hawaii, competing against other powerful golfers could win. And that singular event vaulted me into world-class championship-level deaf tournaments.

"It has enabled me to pursue my love of golf across the United States and the world and, at the same time, let me serve as a role model to other golfers, young and old, deaf and hearing, teach them about the game itself, develop respect for its history, its rules, etiquette, and develop personal conduct and sportsmanship."

Isobe says he has lived his life with the idea "to try three times as hard and to never give up." Friday, at his induction, he will tell his audience that "Being here tonight strengthens my belief that dreams can become a reality."

He is living proof.

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