By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Hawaii Prep senior Andrew Paisley was lucky enough to get a good break and good enough to capitalize on it, firing a 2-over-par 73 to capture the Big Island Interscholastic Federation season opener Wednesday at Hilo Municipal Golf Course, where a morning drizzle soon gave way to a relatively nice afternoon for 18 rounds of playable golf.
Paisley edged Hilo senior Davin Yagi by a shot, and had a compelling finish on the 18th hole with Waiakea freshman Trevor Hirata (75) and Konawaena senior Ryley Chong (76), his two other first-group playing partners.
On the last hole, Hirata and Chong found the fairway on their first shots. Paisley’s driver hit a tree, but knock on wood, his ball bounced into the fairway. He was in good shape and still tied for the lead with Hirata.
About 150 yards away, Paisley and Hirata landed their approach shots on the green’s fringe. Chong’s second fell short of the green. He hit a bump-and-run to within six feet and finished with a par, leaving the veteran and youngster in a shootout with long putts and a spot for first place waiting.
Paisley, his ball above the hole, sank a curving 35-foot putt for birdie on the par-4 18th while Hirata didn’t get a good read, hit short with six feet left and three-putted, still a successful BIIF debut, considering the circumstances — going against two players with high-profile resumes. Chong is the defending BIIf champion and Paisley the runner-up the last three years.
“I hit the ball great. I didn’t miss a lot of greens, which is nice because it was a little muddy and it was hard to chip,” Paisley said. “I had a good front nine. I was 2-under after seven holes. But I had a double bogey on 8 and 9 and shot even the rest of the way. It was a long day (over four hours), but I managed it pretty well. It was nice, no rain or wind and that helped.”
Paisley was sharp with his mid-range game, swinging accurate irons and finding 14 of 18 greens. He had one other inconvenient hole with a bogey, but helped himself with three birdies, none bigger than the last one, set up nicely with a good bounce off that friendly tree. And when it came time to make a money shot, he flushed that 35-foot bomb, draining it dead-center with perfect speed, tempo, and touch.
“I probably shouldn’t have hit driver, and I hit the tree and my ball bounced out. I pulled my second to the left side,” he said. “I wasn’t really trying to make it. I wanted to get it close for a tap-in to get par. But it’s pretty rare to get a putt like that. That doesn’t happen a lot and I’ll take it when I get them.”
Paisley counts chipping as his strength, but putting things into perspective runs a close second, especially when he thinks about his BIIF runner-up finishes.
As a freshman in 2010, he knew Kamehameha senior Nainoa Calip, who won three BIIF titles in a row, was the favorite. He pointed out he was surprised and thrilled to be in title contention. The following year, Waiakea’s Chad Suzuki beat him by a stroke in a playoff. Last season, he lost to Chong by a single shot, again.
“My first year, I was stoked to be in the last group with Nainoa,” Paisley said. “The next year, Chad played really well and I lost to him on a birdie. I can’t get mad at that. Last year, I didn’t know I was close. I blew up in the second hole (a double bogey).
“I hope to play my game at the BIIF championships. If it happens, that’s great. My goal is to get into the mode of putting up good numbers. I want to put that out to college coaches. I want to play in college and that’s my focus right now.”
Big-picture thinking also trickles down to his course management.
“I’ve improved in my ball-striking. It’s been more practice and I’ve got new irons, which help,” he said. “I’m more focused and have smarter play, getting the correct yardage, taking in all the elements — wind, uphill, downhill — and taking more time before I hit my shot. My chipping has always been good. I’m usually decent at it.”
In his first BIIF win of the young season, Paisley’s putting was better, especially on the last hole, where he was good enough to take advantage of his bit of good fortune.