His rounds at his first U.S. Open in June did not go the way he wanted, but at least a few fond memories stirred up in Nick Mason as he strolled around Pinehurst No. 2.
Three holes, nos. 6, 8 and 11, reminded him of the greens at Hilo Municipal Golf Course, which will always hold a special place in his heart.
“This is where my golf game (took off). I went from being a pretty good college player to being able to play for a living,” Mason said Friday after a wet round of the Hilo Invitational Pro-Am.
“As soon as I got the text inviting me, that made up my mind. I love coming back here. I love to play the golf course. I see a lot of my friends. That’s a huge thing for me.”
Mason may have been a small fish in the big pond that is the national championship, but he’s been the big fish at the Hilo Invitational. The former University of Hawaii at Hilo golfer is searching for his fifth title.
Mason will tee off on No. 4 at noon Saturday as the Pro-Am concludes. Golfers not in the Pro-Am go off in a 7 a.m. shotgun start. Another shotgun start is set for 7 a.m. Sunday for the final 18 holes.
Mason considers Hoakalei Country Club on Oahu to be his home course, but he said playing Hilo Muni is second nature to him.
“I don’t even have to read my putts,” he said. “The greens haven’t changed in 15 years.”
He’s playing his first tournament in Hawaii since he finished 13-over and missed the cut at the U.S. Open in North Carolina.
But he came away with a lesson in ball-striking.
“You need to get longer and get the ball higher to win majors and work the ball both ways. Those three things are huge when it comes to playing with the best,” he said. “I felt like I was playing great coming into it. I don’t think it was the pressure. I just didn’t have the game that week. It showed me what I needed to work on.”
He’s looking to claim his third straight win in Hawaii after victories at the Hawaii State Open at Mauna Lani in December and at the Mid-Pacific Open on Oahu in April.
And he stressed that qualifying for the U.S. Open does not make him look down on other tournaments. In fact, the experience stoked his desire.
“It makes you more hungry,” he said. “It can go either way. One thing my parents said to me is it’s going to make every tournament easier to play. It made me more hungry because you want to play out there.”
Calip looks to build off momentum: One player with an eye on joining Mason as a pro is Pahoa’s Nainoa Calip.
The former three-time Big Island Interscholastic Federation champion at Kamehameha comes in playing some of the best golf of his career, including a victory at the Manoa Cup on Oahu in June.
Calip capped the weeklong tournament with a 6-and-5 victory against former UHH golfer Isaac Jaffurs in the final.
“I was really confident in my irons from tee to green, everything was grooving,” Calip said. “I felt some confidence out there and I was able to keep it going.”
Calip finished his eligibility at the University of Hawaii, but he still has one semester left to complete his sociology degree. Then he plans to turn professional.
“This course is not long but it’s not short,” he said. “Not many birdie holes are given to you. You’re going to have to hit quality shots to hit birdies.”
Can’t hide from the rain: Tournament co-chair Lance Taketa said the Hilo Invitational was moved from its usual slot in February to better fit the schedule of co-chair Kevin Hayashi.
“The move had nothing to do with the weather,” Taketa said. “There is no way of getting around Hilo weather.”
The tournament was cancelled last year by inclement weather, and it was shortened to 18 holes when Mason won in 2012.