By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
With his time in Hawaii winding down, Max Elster, an international student from Germany, is making the most of his sophomore year at Parker, where he has made friends, found the aloha spirit and captured a Big Island Interscholastic Federation golf meet.
“I chose Hawaii and that’s been fortunate for me,” he said. “You always hear about the beaches and palm trees, but the people have been extra special to me.
“I come from a big school in Germany, about 800 students, and Parker is smaller with 120 and that makes it easier to connect with people and find friends. The teachers have been extremely nice and helpful with my questions and I appreciate that.
“I’m hoping to visit Mauna Kea in the next few weeks. The most enjoyable things was getting to learn how to surf, hike with friends from Parker and golf. It’s been extremely fun golfing on the island. Those three things have been a joy.”
Elster, who came to the Big Island last August through a program called the International Hospitality Center, is scheduled to return to his home country in June. But before he leaves, he’s still got a lot on his plate.
He and fellow golfer Evan Kasberg are on the school’s debate team, which qualified for the State Forensic Championship to be held April 18-20 at Kamehameha-Kapalama and Punahou on Oahu. Fortunately, it doesn’t conflict with any BIIF golf dates.
On Monday, Elster fired a 4-over-par 76 to share BIIF medalist honors with Kamehameha’s Cody Pereira at Mauna Lani’s north course.
Soccer is the national sport in Germany, which finished third at the World Cup in 2006 and ’10. Elster grew up playing soccer and golf, but gravitated toward hitting the ball because his parents, Harald and Gaby, play golf and introduced him to the sport.
“My dad is a 9-handicap and it’s a lot of fun playing with him, even though he is worse than me,” Elster joked. “I love to meet people. That’s one of the main reasons I play and because of my parents. I have an older sister, but she didn’t like it as much and gave it up.”
Elster has found the aloha spirit in every corner during his Big Island stop. It’s put him at ease and also made him a better golfer. That’s because he and Kasberg — the school’s only golfers — push each other.
“I was nervous before I came. I had not been to Hawaii before, but I have been to the mainland, Boston, Florida, California, Michigan,” he said. “Our family has friends in those states. I’m living with a host family. It was weird at the beginning, eating their food, sleeping in their room. But after time it was so nice. You see them every day and get used to it. I appreciate living with my host family.
“Evan is a really good golfer, too. He helps me get better. We’re very good friends and hang out together. The big thing is we’re partners on our team and make each other better every day.”
In the fifth BIIF meet of the season with conditions that were hot and calm throughout, Elster had a productive tee shot on the par-4 18th at Mauna Lani, banging the ball about 300 yards down the fairway and setting up a nice approach shot.
He stuck his second shot to within 6 feet of the hole. Elster made a good read, and put a good stroke on his birdie putt. But the ball didn’t drop.
“After he finished the front nine he was 5-over. He was 1-under on the back nine,” Bulls coach Karl Kasberg said. “Actually, he could have had a birdie on 18. But the ball sat on the edge. He would have had sole possession of first. He was impressive to get his approach to 6 feet. His putt was 5 feet, 11 1/2 inches.
“We’re really proud of Max. I knew he was a good golfer when I met him. I couldn’t believe how long his drive was and his approach was close to the pin. At one point, he was discouraged because he was 4-over and I told him that might win the tourney, and that did win the tourney.
“He’s very outgoing and gets along with everyone. He’s very positive and sometimes if he gets discouraged because he’s not playing up to his level he’ll immediately say, ‘I’ll do better next time.’ He really came into his game.”
Elster counts his short irons as the strength of his game. He figures he landed safely on 14 of 18 greens. The last approach proved vital for the sophomore Bull, who follows Phil Mickelson as his favorite because of Lefty’s creative short game.
“It’s a great feeling win my first BIIF tourney in Hawaii,” Elster said. “That makes it more special.”
Max and Evan
From the season’s start, Elster and Kasberg have pushed each other. In the first two meets, Elster was one shot better at Hilo Municipal and Volcano. At Hilo Muni again, Elster was ahead by nine shots.
Then at Waikoloa Village, Kasberg had his best finish, carding a 4-over 76 to place second to Hilo’s Davin Yagi’s par 72. Elster was third with a 77, setting the stage for his triumph at Mauna Lani.
“Last year we only had one golfer. We doubled in size this year,” joked Karl Kasberg about his son Evan, a senior. “Even started at the Waikoloa Kings junior program when he was 11 years old. Max has helped him with his game. They feed off each other. They better each other and study their swings. They’re both good teammates to each other.”
The two Bulls practice at the Hapuna driving range, and brush up on the course on Mondays and the weekend when there isn’t a BIIF meet. They were also on the Bulls soccer team. It’s time well spent and closing fast on a year of fun times.
“Ever since he came to school, we’ve spent a lot of time together,” Evan said. “We played soccer together and it’s the same thing with golf. He’ll come to my house and stay for dinner and we’ll play video games. We’ll laugh a lot and I can’t pick a top memory because there are so many.”
There isn’t high school golf at Elster’s school in Germany. He’s on a club team. When he graduates, he’s looking to study business administration back home. He left room that he would consider coming back to the states.
Evan Kasberg is thinking about playing collegiate golf at a Division III school somewhere. Maybe the two can be teammates again. But thoughts for the future can wait because there’s a BIIF meet Wednesday at the Waikoloa Kings Course.
The two have been good for each other at Parker, where they have played soccer together, been on the debate team and made life fun for each other, a point of emphasis with Parker coach Karl Kasberg.
“Having Max on the team has definitely helped Evan improve,” he said. “But my philosophy is I just want them to have fun. When I see them on the course, I’ll ask, ‘Are you having fun? You better say, Yes.’ And they do.
“If one has a bad round, five minutes later they’ll be laughing and having a good time. That’s always nice to see.”