By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Cody Pereira relies on his routine to steady his golf game, an approach that helped him conquer a hard-charging field and capture Big Island Interscholastic Federation medalist honors for the first time.
The Kamehameha junior fired a 4-over-par 76 on Monday at Volcano Country Club, finishing two shots ahead of Hilo senior Davin Yagi, runner-up for the second consecutive week, and making the chase for the BIIF title a lot more interesting.
Pereira has built an impressive resume, getting into the BIIF individual championships and the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament as a freshman and sophomore.
He’s been to the dance, but in the golfing game of musical chairs he’s never been the last one standing with a gold medal. That all changed with a balanced effort at Volcano. He fired a pair of 38s on the front and back nines.
“I didn’t expect it. If felt pretty good. I think anybody would say that about their first tournament win,” Pereira said. “I didn’t know where I stood until the last couple of holes when I talked to the other groups. I hit my shots and made pars my last two holes.”
Sometimes, the toughest opponent is the ominous shadow of pressure. On the par-5 17th, Pereira knew he was in the ballgame. And when he grabbed his driver, a bunch of butterflies tagged along.
“The tee shot was my best shot of the day. I was feeling pretty nervous at the time. I was hoping to put it in the fairway,” said Pereira, who safely parked it 290 yards. “My second shot I was still pretty nervous. I played it safe, hit a 7-iron to the front of the green, chipped and two-putted.”
It was the same feeling on the par-4 18th. He stuck to the same game plan, playing smart. He also needed to hit good shots to reach the finish line and he did that, too.
“I felt like it was the hardest hole all day, but I piped one down the middle and had 110 yards for my second shot,” he said. “The pin was kind of in the back. I played it to the middle of the green and two-putted.
“I stuck to my routine. That’s something I always use and the thing that got me there in the first place. I grab my club, take a practice swing, go behind the ball and look where I want to aim and fire.”
Pereira picked up the game as a youngster, and was influenced by his grandparents, Yvonne and the late Ray Nakamura, and his dad, Vince, still a playing partner.
The simple challenge of golf — getting the ball into the hole with the least amount of strokes — has long been an attraction. The basic lessons of the game, from Grandpa Ray, have stuck with him just as long. When he needed to make his last putt, Pereira was in a good place.
“Ever since I could walk I had a wooden putter around the house,” he said. “When I was small I would go to Sea Mountain with my grandparents and mess around. I remember my grandpa teaching me how to putt, hit the speed and how to judge it. That definitely helped me Monday.”
Kamehameha coach Bob Roman knew a BIIF win was around the corner for Pereira, who is also on the school’s bowling team.
“It’s been coming. He’s been hanging around 80 for a while. No one on the team is more focused,” Roman said. “He’s worked really hard and provides quiet leadership. He leads by example.”
The Warriors have a roster of 15 boys and four girls. But most of the starters on the boys squad were in New York for a band trip. They returned Wednesday and will start at the BIIF meet Friday at Hilo Municipal Golf Course.
Freshman Preston Ching is the No. 2 starter, and other returning golfers are Ahren Ah Chong, Bram Paikuli and senior Jacy Higa.
Golfing in their place were Cainin Francis, who shot 100 at Volcano, Jaston Eleneki (101), Mavrick Mahi (103) and Paele Kiakona (111). All are seniors, except for Mahi who’s a junior like Pereira.
Kiakona is in his second year of golfing after transferring from Kamehameha-Maui, where he played baseball. Eleneki is a rookie golfer and Mahi is from Kohala, experiencing long days while attending practice at Hilo Muni then catching the bus to go back home.
Part of Roman’s job is pulling off a juggling act. Only five boys can golf, with the four best scores counting. To qualify for the BIIF individual championships, a golfer needs three regular-season meets.
The BIIF team champion is awarded five spots to states. The other berths (about 17 overall, which leaves a dozen open) are determined at the three-round BIIF individual championships. A state qualifier also needs at least one regular-season meet appearance.
“I want to compliment the boys who were golfing in place of the starters,” Roman said. “We may not win the team title, but we’ll give a good accounting of ourselves. Jaston and Cainin are in their first year and to shoot in the 90s or 100s is pretty good.”
Shantel Antonio (92) led the way for the girls at Volcano while Healani Kaaihili (94) and Alana Manuia (126) followed. Kaaihili is a junior while Antonio and Manuia, a rookie golfer, are sophomores.
“Alana is in her fourth week of golf,” Roman said. “She’s run cross country and played soccer and decided to try golf. Healani shoots bogey golf, in essence if it’s a par 72 she’ll shoot 90. She holds the team together. She makes sure the girls get to where they need to go.”
Roman sees big potential in Antonio, thinking she can duplicate someone like Waiakea senior Ciera Min, the defending BIIF champion and a worker bee who earned a golf scholarship to Gonzaga.
“No one on the team works harder,” he said. “On her off days, she hits at the range and spends a lot of time on the putting greens. She can play college golf somewhere. She’s already looking to playing in college. There’s lots of promise because of the hard work. The focus is there and her grades are good.
“She’s capable of shooting in the 70s. It will come. Maybe this year or next year. The experience of playing with people atop the leaderboard all the time will help. She can get to that level, and handle that pressure.”