By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Recent Waiakea graduate Ciera Min played with the type of precision that made golf seem easy and fun, at least for her anyway, at the 37th annual U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship.
Min, the 64th and lowest seed, took down No. 1 seed Annie Park 6 and 4 in the first day of match play at the Jimmie Austin Oklahoma University Golf Club in Norman, Okla.
“It’s so humbling,” Min said. “It’s a great experience. The feeling was amazing.”
Min played bogey-free golf and didn’t need the last four holes, beating Park with birdies on the par-5 fifth and eighth, and par-4 11th. She also won the third, sixth, 10th and 14th holes with par while Park stumbled with a bogey each time.
Park is an upcoming sophomore at USC. Last year as a freshman, she won the NCAA women’s championship by six strokes. She entered as the favorite, something the underdog Min saw as a slight edge.
“I was the last-ranked player and didn’t have a lot of pressure,” said Min, who’s headed to Gonzaga on a golf scholarship. “She probably had more. As far as my game, she hit the ball way farther than me, 40 yards on drives. I was always hitting first on the second shot because I was farther away.
“She was sticking pins, but had problems with a few short ones. I capitalized on my short game. I was a lot better than Tuesday (a 7-over-par 79 in stroke play). My putting was good. It was solid and I was chasing a lot of pars. I had a few birdies and I was pretty lucky I have to say.”
Match play is all about winning each hole with a lower score. But if it were stroke play, Min would have recorded 11 pars through 14 holes.
Park only secured the par-5 13th hole with her lone birdie of the day, which featured a slight wind and temperatures in the 90-degree range. Min got par on that hole.
“I like playing in match play,” Min said. “Mentally, I like having an opponent to focus on. In stroke play, you only worry about yourself. I just like the mentality of match play.
“I wanted to do my best. I had so much support, text messages from a lot of people. That was a good motivation to do well.”
Behind her sweet smile is a killer instinct. She’s the type who never settles for good enough. That attitude shined bright as the sun with her response to shooting a 79.
“I struggled,” Min said on Tuesday about a score that got her into a playoff for match play, but a performance not to her liking.
Her parents, Marvin and Toni Min, couldn’t make the trip. Her uncle and aunty, Harry and Jane Uyema, brought her to the home course of the Sooners. They’ll be part of her fan club, along with the other Gonzaga supporters.
That’s because Min will play her Bulldogs teammate Raychelle Santos at 3:30 a.m. HST today in the round of 32. If Min wins, she would play at 9 a.m. HST in the round of 16. The quarterfinals and semifinals will be held on Friday and the championship is Saturday.
“I got a text message from Gonzaga coach Brad Rickel as soon as I got off the golf course,” Min said. “He told me my teammate also won and it was a good day for Gonzaga. There’s an article already out on the Gonzaga website.
“I’ve already talked and texted Raychelle. Our coach texted both of us, telling us to play our best and once it’s finished we’re teammates. It’ll be friendly competition with Raychelle. She actually housed me during my official visit to the campus. I think it’ll be a fun day. It’s going to be fun playing each other and it just so happens that it’s match play at the same time.”
The last time Min, the soon-to-be Gonzaga Bulldog, talked about fun was before her match with Park. Then Min’s killer instinct for match play came out and golf was easy and fun, at least for her anyway.
U.S. Senior Open
Min also had good reason to smile because her swing coach, Kevin Hayashi, captured the Aloha Section PGA’s lone spot to the U.S. Senior Open, slated July 8-14 at Omaha Country Club in Omaha, Neb., beating a field of 40.
Hayashi and Kirk Nelson each shot a 1-under 71 at Honolulu Country Club on Tuesday. In the sudden-death playoff, each parred the first hole. On the second hole, Hayashi birdied and secured the berth at the local qualifier on Oahu.
There was a playoff for the second alternate spot between Hawaii golfing legend David Ishii and Hilo’s Lance Taketa. Ishii birdied the first playoff hole and would play in the U.S. Senior Open if Hayashi and Nelson withdrew.
“I’m really proud of coach Kevin for making it to the U.S. Senior Open,” Min said. “I got a lesson from him right before I left. It helped me a lot.”