Maybe it was meant to be for Clayton Amuro, who has played 10 times in the U.S. Amateur Public Links championship qualifier, got really close twice, but never reached the national tournament.
Or maybe his niece, Gonzaga upcoming sophomore Ciera Min, was his lucky charm. It’s the first time Min, a 2013 Waiakea graduate, was on her uncle’s bag.
In the last publinx qualifier at Hilo Municipal Golf Course, Amuro, the 54-year-old with the self-taught swing, saw his persistence finally deliver something special.
He fired a 6-over-par 70-78—148 to claim one of the three spots to the last APL national championship, which will be held July 14-19 at Sand Creek Station Golf Course in Newton, Kan.
Under overcast gray clouds with a swirling wind and fast greens, UH-Hilo senior-to-be Dalen Yamauchi captured medalist honors with a 1-under 70-71—141 total.
Hilo dentist Chris Igawa (78-74—150), Kua Baltero (74-76—150), Brett Furutani (76-74—150) and Shaun Downie (79-71—150) tied for the third place.
Doc Igawa and Furutani were tied after three playoff holes, and Downie was eliminated after the first playoff hole, and Baltero after the second.
Then darkness hit the course, and Igawa and Furutani were scheduled for another playoff at 5:30 p.m. Monday at Hilo Muni. The runner-up will be the first alternate, and Baltero the second alternate.
Doc Igawa has played in 13 publinx qualifiers, and advanced to the national APL five times.
It’s the third consecutive time Yamauchi has qualified for the national APL, the tourney’s official nickname. He’s two short of matching 2007 Honokaa graduate Sean Maekawa’s record of five in a row.
Yamauchi, who’s been to the last two NCAA Division II national championships, won’t have a chance to catch Maekawa.
That’s because the United States Golfing Association will retire the 49-year-old APL after the 2014 season. The women’s publinx or WAPL will also be retired.
Nani Yanagi, a 2012 Waiakea graduate and Washington State upcoming junior, will play in the publinx qualifier on Monday on Kauai.
Her brother, Pono Yanagi, an upcoming Kamehameha eighth-grader, was one shot from joining the playoff. He bogeyed the last hole, and had a 73-78—151 total.
Four-ball national tourneys will replace both publinx tourneys because, in part, the USGA claimed the format is gaining in popularity.
Maybe more than anything, our local publinx has been about golfing bonds.
Doc Igawa’s caddie was Lee Hardy, his coach at Waiakea. On Yamauchi’s bag was his dad, Wayne. And on young Yanagi’s bag was his dad, Tracy, with mom Lori and sister Nani tagging along.
Meanwhile, Amuro has earned the title of Mr. Local Runner-up. Twice he’s been one shot off from a national APL spot. He’s been second twice and third twice at the Big Island Amateur Championship.
How’s this for a dagger: Min shot a 151 total, and overcame a four-shot deficit at Mauna Lani Resort last year to win the Big Island Amateur, becoming the first female champ in the 90-history of the tournament.
Guess who finished runner-up?
Answer: Uncle Clayton, who was one shot behind with a 152 total.
“It was something special to have Ciera on the bag with me. It’s the first time,” Amuro said. “It was great having family together. She has a lot of talent.”
Amuro can throw his name in that talent pool, too.
“For a guy with a self-taught swing,” he joked. “I’d love to go the mainland and see how far I can get. It’s just a game, but the competition gets my blood going. I played pretty well, and I tried to stay steady and grind it out.
“I started golf when I was 12 years old, and started in junior golf, but we didn’t have lessons like the kids today. It’s really sad we can’t have this tourney. I grew up playing on public courses, and I play at Hilo Muni every week.”
Amuro showed his toughness on final back nine. On holes No. 14 and 15, he bogeyed. Then he put together three consecutive pars.
Over those last five holes, Yamauchi, in the same group, punched in a clock of consistency. He went par, par, par, birdie and final-hole par.
He noted that his ball-striking wasn’t all that crisp. But that skill is down the list from his most valuable trait: his course management.
“When things got bad, I’d keep going and try to make par, have good misses and try to make my mistakes playable for par,” said Yamauchi, who noted two safe putts are always better than three. “I’d try to make good misses, and get par. I made a lot of pars out there.”
That’s something the youthful and promising Pono Yanagi picked up, knowing when to step on the gas and when to throttle back. It’s also a tough deal because he’s going through a major growing spurt.
Last year, he played in the publinx for the first time, and he was an inch taller than his 5-foot-4 sister, Nani. Now, Pono is 5-8 with a height of 5-10 coming soon. His coordination and upgraded strength have yet to coordinate with his golf swing.
“The first 18 holes was a like a fresh day. I knew the second 18 would be harder, walking 36 holes,” Pono said. “I tried to have fun, and do my best.
“On the second time at 18, I told my group, ‘It’s our last hole, let’s rip it and go for it.’ The pin placements were hard. It was rare to get lucky. It was definitely a learning lesson today.”
As the day slowly turned into darkness in the last publinx, Amuro reflected on the biggest prize in his golfing journey — a chance to play on a national stage.
The national APL champion receives an exemption from qualifying for the next two U.S. Amateurs, local qualifying for the next three U.S. Opens, and an invitation to the Masters.
“I’m very happy to get it,” Amuro said. “Of course, this is the last publinx, so maybe it was meant to be.”