By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
The University of Hawaii at Hilo’s men’s golf team tees off today, and if all goes right during a season that’s split into fall and spring campaigns, the conclusion won’t come until May of next year.
Compared to other college sports, it’s a long journey. But as the Vulcans learned last season at regionals, every shot counts.
After missing out on a berth to the NCAA Division II championships by a single, agonizing stroke, UHH returns four of its top golfers.
The headliners are Corey Kozuma and Dalen Yamauchi.
Kozuma, a senior from Honolulu, was the Pacific West Conference Co-Player of the Year last season with a resume that included one victory and five top-six finishes.
Yamauchi, a junior, peaked in the postseason. The Waiakea graduate finished second at the conference finals, and then he placed fifth at regionals to earn an individual spot at NCAAs.
“They’ve both been shooting under par in practice pretty consistently,” coach Earl Tamiya said.
Kozuma was first and Yamauchi second as UHH held seven rounds of qualifying to determine its five-man group for its first road trip of the season. The No. 14-ranked Vulcans play at the Western Washington University Invitational today and Tuesday in Bellingham, Wash., before heading south to the Golfweek Invitational the following week in Sunriver, Ore.
Neither Kozuma nor Yamauchi drive the ball off the tee like Jamie Hall — a key member of last year’s team who has transferred from UHH — but both are consistent.
“They’ve both been putting it out there, and the game gets easier when you hit off the tee,” Tamiya said. “Hopefully, Corey has a big senior year.”
Tamiya also thinks Yamauchi’s game will improve now that he’s an upperclassman, making it easier for him to recapture the momentum he gained during the spring.
“He’s come a long way, but we expect his mental side to improve,” Tamiya said. “He took a dip during the summer, but he’s been picking it up.”
The other three golfers who made the trip to Washington were seniors Chris Shimomura and Christian Agosto, and sophomore Kyeton Littel.
Agosto, who’s from Honolulu, enters his fourth year in the program, but he played a limited schedule last season and never qualified to count toward UHH’s team score.
“He’s been playing well, but we don’t know what to expect,” Tamiya said. “He has to take his game from the practice round to competition.”
Shimomura is listed at 5-foot-7 and 118 pounds on the roster, but Tamiya said he hits well and was third in preseason qualifying.
Maui natives Littel and Shimomura both enjoyed their best success last season at the Dennis Rose Invitational at Waikoloa Kings’ Golf Course, finishing second and fifth, respectively.
Tamiya looks for Littel to improve upon a freshman season in which he was third-team all-Pac West.
“He didn’t have that much experience but he matured in a big way,” Tamiya said.
The fall portion of the schedule finishes with Dennis Rose, Oct. 28-29.