By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Taisei Negishi and Dalen Yamauchi were paired together and kept pushing each other until the final hole at the Hilo sectional of the USGA Public Links Amateur Championship.
The two young guns — Negishi will be an upcoming freshman and Yamauchi a soon-to-be sophomore at UH-Hilo — earned the two berths to the nationals Saturday at Hilo Municipal Golf Course, shooting an even-par 142 and 1-over 143, respectively, in the 36-hole tournament.
Yamauchi, a 2011 Waiakea graduate, had the lowest score in the first round, firing a 2-under 69. He had a 74 in the second round, and on the last hole bogeyed the fourth instead of No. 18 because of water issues.
The greens on the ninth, 14th, 17th and 18th holes were underwater and unplayable in both rounds. So the field played Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 three times.
On the last hole, Negishi two-putted for par. Yamauchi chipped his third shot from off the green on the par-4 fourth and two-putted for bogey, losing medalist honors by one shot.
However, both are winners and qualified for first time for the national publinx championship, which will be held July 14-19 at Soldier Hollow Golf Course in Utah. The U.S. amateur publinx champion and U.S. amateur champions are invited to the 2013 Masters and other major amateur events.
Negishi is 5 feet, 5 inches, but he hits the ball roughly 260 yards, just as far as two of his college-playing partners, Yamauchi and Nainoa Calip, who’ll be a junior at Hawaii. Both are bigger and taller.
“I try to make a big arc so I can get dynamics,” Negishi said. “Body rotation is really important.
“I played not bad. The weather was pretty bad and that’s how I started, too. I snap-hooked No. 1 two times.”
Negishi shadowed Yamauchi in the first round, shooting a 1-under 70. Then he leapfrogged him the second round, logging a 72, built on the strength of his putting.
“All those 5-footers, I made them today,” Negishi said. “I’m really happy. I practiced pretty hard for this tournament. To go to the nationals is a great experience. I get to play with all these big guys and learn a lot.”
It was pretty much the same with Yamauchi, who credited his solid work to his putting and pointed out that he’s looking forward to the tough competition at the publinx, which will be two rounds of stroke play, followed by match play.
“I putted well and chipped the ball well,” he said. “I have some stuff to work on, my ball-striking. It was fun playing under the wet conditions. But it was tough out there with mud on the ball and water on the greens.
“I was making putts in the first round. I kept playing and hit solid shots. You’ve got be get lucky, too. The same Division I guys I play against will be at the publinx. There are good players up there and it’s a different caliber of game up there. I want to see how I do against those guys and see what I have to improve on.”
It was Negishi’s third publinx qualifier, but he withdrew his first time because of a leg injury. Yamauchi has played in five and finished fourth the last two years.
If they need any advice, they can give Calip a call. He’s played seven times and qualified for nationals in 2010, after he graduated from Kamehameha.
“As long as you get into match play, it’s literally anybody’s game,” he said. “The year I went a 13-year-old made it to the round of 16. It was cool seeing this young kid own the golf course.”
Calip was impressed with Negishi’s growth as a golfer. He remembers a couple of years ago when he hit the ball 50 yards past the youngster. On several holes, Negishi cranked it farther.
“He’s really talented and hit it longer than me on some holes,” Calip said. “He takes a huge arc with his swing and squares up to the ball. And he putts well, too.”
Calip shot 76-79—154 and won bragging rights against his older brother, Pono, who finished 76-84—160.
When he went to the national publinx, Calip made it a worthwhile trip, even though he didn’t make it to match play. He missed the cut by two shots and double-bogeyed the last hole, a tough up-and-down from being stuck in thick rough.
“I just talked to guys and asked them the way they think. I asked them questions and how they control themselves,” he said. “One guy said he bites into a towel and screams into it. Another said he swings the club as hard as he can. Then he moves on.
“That’s what it’s about, letting go of all those emotions and moving on to the next shot. And that’s huge in match play.”
The two young guns will likely learn that lesson soon enough.