By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Chris Igawa and Dalen Yamauchi matched each other with steady golf through 36 holes, scrambling hard when up-and-downs were required and finishing in a most fitting manner.
On an overcast Saturday, Igawa and Yamauchi fired identical scores, 4-under-par 71-67—138, securing the two available berths at the U.S. Amateur Public Links championship local qualifier at Hilo Municipal Golf Course.
Jason Miyazono was the closest to the tandem. He had a 4-over 74-72—146 total, eight shots back.
It’s the second straight year Yamauchi has qualified. He had an impressive sophomore season at UH-Hilo, where he placed 76th at the NCAA Division II national championship, and took fifth at the West Regional.
Igawa, a Hilo dentist, has now qualified five times. His last trip was in 2010 at Bryan Park Golf Course in Greensboro, N.C., where he reached the round of 16.
“I hung in there and hit really good shots to keep up with Dr. Igawa,” said Yamauchi, who qualified for the first time last year. “He played really well and it was fun playing with him. He played with coach Lee Hardy (the former Waiakea coach and Igawa’s caddy). They make a really good team and it was really good to tie today.”
Yamauchi got helpful advice from his caddy, too. His dad Wayne Yamauchi was his caddy. The duo encountered late trouble on the 15th hole when the 2011 Waiakea graduate bogeyed and Igawa birdied, a three-shot swing that tied things up.
“I made a good up-and-down on 15,” Yamauchi said. “I kept the ball in play. I hit a lot of greens and when I needed to get up-and-downs I would.”
The last time Yamauchi shot a 67 was at the Hilo Invitational in his senior year at Waiakea. It was necessary because Igawa shadowed him the last three holes shot for shot.
On the par-3 16th they each made par. The par-5 17th was next and both drained short downhill putts for birdie. The closing par-4 18th is a steep uphill climb, a relatively straight 399 yards.
It was a fun hole for both for different reasons.
Yamauchi hit his 18-foot putt for birdie one inch short. He brushed it in for par. Then it was Igawa’s turn.
His approach shot went above the green and got stuck with a quarter-sized plot of mud. His ball sat unhappily about 30 yards away or two roughing-the-passer penalties.
Then Doc Igawa showed brilliant touch, chipping the ball, instructing it to roll and setting himself up for a 2-foot par putt. He flushed it down the middle for co-medalist honors.
The 88th and second-to-last edition of the APL, the tourney’s formal nickname, will be held July 15-20 at Laurel Hills Golf Club in Lorton, Va.
“You had to be patient,” Igawa said. “It wasn’t easy but the course was in great shape and the best I’ve seen it in the last six months. The weather was cooperative.
“I’m thrilled to qualify. I was shut out the last two years. I tried hard to make my goal. My scrambling and putting helped today.”
Two weeks ago, recent Waiakea graduate Ciera Min captured a spot at the local qualifier for the women’s publinx on Kauai. The WAPL is scheduled June 17-22 in Norman, Okla.
Min, who’s heading to Gonzaga on a golf scholarship, will be joined by Nani Yanagi, who finished her freshman year at Washington State. She entered her first APL to stay in golfing shape and shot an 85-81—166 total.
The United State Golf Association will retire the APL and WAPL championships after the 2014 season, eliminating the Big Island’s only host site for golfers to qualify for a national tournament.
It is an uncomfortable, impending death that has been met with a sense of urgency. Last year, there were not enough golfers to qualify for two automatic berths; there was one guaranteed and an alternative spot.
A field of 40 turned out this time around, securing two automatic berths to a national tournament that includes the following rewards for the champion: an exemption from qualifying for the 2014 APL, the next two U.S. Amateurs, local qualifying for the next three U.S. Opens (provided amateur status) and a likely invitation to the Masters.
“There is a sense that time is running out,” Doc Igawa said.
There wasn’t any late-hole dramatics. It was just steady golf between two guys. They each shot a second-round 4-under 67, something always worth remembering.
“You’ve got to get a few breaks and make some putts,” Yamauchi said of his 67. “It doesn’t feel that you’re that low, but you are.
“It was a really good round for both players. I would make birdie and he would make birdie. It was a back-and-forth deal.”
Yanagi wasn’t the only family member making a publinx debut. Her 12-year-old brother, Pono, a soon-to-be seventh grader at Kamehameha, became the tournament’s youngest competitor.
He’ll earn bragging rights for a while. Pono shot 81-80 for a 161 total, five shots better than his older but shorter sister.
“When I left home after winter break, we were the same length,” said 5-foot-4 Nani, talking about golf distance not height. “Then he grew a few inches and now he’s hitting it farther than me.”
It was a family affair. Tracy Yanagi caddied for daughter Nani and mom Lori held the bag for Pono, who has played in five tournaments so far and qualified for the Optimist, which will be held July 25-27 in Florida.
“I thought I could have done better,” Pono said. “I’m not used to walking 36 holes for the first time. I entered the tourney to get in more practice because I’ve made it for the Optimist. I wanted to get used to 36 holes and have fun. My main goal is to beat my sister more.”
Nani understands her brother’s competitive fire. She sees it every day when she’s home from Wazzu. Previously, she held the upper hand when they played, but now he’s launching his drives 260 yards, 20 yards more than Nani.
“He keeps me on top of my game,” she said. “Before it was Nani will win, but he’s a hard worker and I expect him to beat me.”
It that case, it was a really good day for young Pono Yanagi, who made publinx history at Hilo Muni as the youngest golfer, and even better, he beat his sister.