By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Lance Taketa thinks often about Tai On Chock, who passed away in January 2001 at age 73, but made the most of a productive life, especially clocking in countless hours and contributing to the local golf community.
Chock was inducted in the Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame in 1991. One of his greatest accomplishments was getting the Big Island its own United States Golf Association section, which eventually became a permanent Hilo home for the U.S. Amateur Public Links championship qualifier.
About 10 years ago, Chock asked Taketa to take over as the section’s head official for the affectionately known publinx, which the USGA plans to retire after the 2014 season. The women’s publinx will also be retired. The USGA basically stated that the U.S. Amateur and publinx serve the same purpose.
The 88th edition of the APL, the tourney’s formal nickname, will be held July 15-20 at Laurel Hills Golf Club in Virginia, where Taketa plans to reiterate to the committee the APL’s original intention: to give exposure to public course players who otherwise might not have an opportunity to compete in a national championship.
“I played in the U.S. Amateur and the national publinx and there’s a distinct difference,” Taketa said. “In the U.S. Amateur you have all the private club members playing in that. Those guys play on the best courses, have access to the best facilities and instruction, what have you.
“The publinx is for the blue-collar guys. It’s a huge thing for public players to play for a national championship on a public muni course like ours. We have a lot of college guys who win, but we do have a lot of working guys who do qualify. Take the publinx away and now they have to compete against U.S. Amateur guys and it’s a different ballgame.”
The APL champion receives 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.
Those are nice carrots to chase. But the real reward of the APL is returning home with unforgettable memories, according to Taketa, who qualified for the U.S. Amateur in 1984, but prefers to relive his national publinx experiences.
“When you’re talking U.S. Amateur, you’re talking big business, one step from being a touring pro,” he said. “It’s not a social atmosphere. It’s very intense. They sell tickets to spectators (APL attendance is free). The publinx is notch lower due to the size of the field. The U.S. Amateur has 312 and the publinx 156. The U.S. Amateur has to spread that over to two golf courses. You don’t see half the field.
“You lose that camaraderie. At the publinx, you get to know the players, the officials and it becomes a nice thing. The publinx experience is so good because everybody treats you so well. I’ve made so many friends there.”
After 2014, the publinx is likely gone. That thought hits Taketa hard. That’s when he reminisces about Chong.
“He was instrumental for Hawaii and a big man of sports,” Taketa said. “Once they announced the retiring of the publinx, I know Tai On would be very sad. He felt so strongly about it. He was the original committee person for the Big Island when the publinx started in 1965.
“We had only two sections in the state, Hilo-Maui and the other was Kauai-Oahu. We’d play at Hilo one year, Maui the next. Why Tai On is such a great man is because he introduced to the USGA committee that each island have their own section.
“That was a huge thing because it grew the publinx even bigger. Nobody had to travel so much. Those days 10 guys represented the state in nationals. Tai On was such an important icon. Without him, we wouldn’t have our own Hilo section.”
Then Taketa thought about golf’s real reward. It’s not trophies. It’s relationships, like the one he held with Chong, a reason the publinx is more than just a golf tournament.
“He had such a big heart,” Taketa said. “I really love that man. I miss him. He was like a second father to me. We were that close. That guy was something else.