The field was much smaller for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links championship qualifier on Kauai, but no less challenging and entertaining for Nani Yanagi, who always finds a way to make the best out of everything.
Yanagi, a 2012 Waiakea graduate and Washington State junior-to-be, fired a par 73 at the 18-hole sectional qualifier on Monday at Wailua Golf Course to claim the lone spot to the final WAPL, which will be held July 14-19 at The Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame, Ind.
She was four strokes better than same-group competitor and old friend Taylor Viquelia, who’s golfing at Southern Utah, grew up on Kauai, and played junior golf with Yanagi.
Viquelia was the first alternate with a 77, and the rest of the six-member field included Maryann Shintani, 84; Sharron Webber, 86; Naea Oda, 89; and Hiilani Alana, 89.
It’s the third and last time Yanagi has qualified for the national WAPL, the tourney’s official nickname. The United State Golfing Association will retire the APL and WAPL after the 2014 season.
Ciera Min, a 2013 Waiakea graduate and upcoming Gonzaga sophomore, is attending summer school and didn’t compete. She made her own WAPL history last year taking down No. 1 seed Annie Park in match play. Park, from USC, was then the defending NCAA national champion.
It’s the first time Yanagi has played when there’s been only one spot. In 2011 as a Waiakea junior, she was the sectional medalist and there were two berths on Kauai. Last year on Oahu, there were six spots.
“I was well-prepared and really wanted this qualifier really badly since it’s going to be the last one,” Yanagi said. “The field was quite small and at first I thought it would a lot easier compared to Oahu, where there’s many girls. Last year, there were six spots, so my goal was to make the top six. It was a kind-of-relax type of deal. This was a lot different, but in a good way.
“Actually it wasn’t easier. I had a friend, Taylor, in my group and we were up-and-up from the get-go. There were a lot less women and only one spot, which made it harder and more pressure. I didn’t want to underestimate anyone, but Taylor was my main competition, and it really felt like match play.”
On the par-4 10th hole, Yanagi thought she could get a little separation from Viquelia with a one-two shot combination that put her in position for a 15-foot putt for eagle. Yanagi missed and tapped in for birdie.
Viquelia countered with a 25-foot putt off the green for a matching birdie. Yanagi’s old friend wasn’t going away, at least not easily. Yanagi, for her part, welcomed the challenge.
“She was not giving in and that made the game actually fun,” Yanagi said. “But it was a grind all the way through.”
Yanagi finally pulled away on the par-5 15th hole, when two chip shots — one bad, one good — produced another birdie, and the momentum to pull away from Viquelia, who earned All-Sky second team honors as a freshman this past season, and finished with a 77.5 stroke average.
On Yanagi’s third shot, 30 yards from the green, she duffed it, and the ball crawled 10 yards. Her next chip was good for a 20-yard birdie. Two chips were just as effective as the traditional chip-and-putt routine.
“I didn’t play well the last two times at the national publinx, and I really want to train hard and make the cut,” Yanagi said. “It’s such a great tourney and they treat you so well. The competition is incredible. Last year, Ciera beat the No. 1 player. Good stuff can happen. It’s a bummer it’s the last one, but hopefully I can make the best out of it.”
Last month, Yanagi, an elementary education major with a 3.5 grade-point average, received honorable mention to the Pac-12 All-Academic golf team.
She worked just as hard at golf, especially during her free time.
“I played a little in the fall, and I struggled with my swing, but I continued training hard and put in a lot of extra work on the side,” she said. “I needed a stronger core. I took time out on my own to work out, see a physical therapist for help, and all that stuff eventually kicked into gear.
“I played in the University of Hawaii tournament at Kaneohe (in March), and played in every single match since and all the way up to the Pac-12 Championships. I had a 77 scoring average and that could have been a lot better. I want that to be a little lower. That’s my goal for next year.”
At the Pac-12 Championships in late April, Wazzu placed 10th and Yanagi finished tied for 39th with a 13-over 76-76-77-229 total at Corvallis, Ore.
A year ago, she and her brother Pono Yanagi, a soon-to-be Kamehameha eighth grader, were nearly the same height at 5 feet 4. He’s suddenly taller at 5-8 and drives the ball almost 300 yards, 60 yards farther than her.
They played 18 holes for ice cream and Nani won. He challenged her in a chipping contest, and Pono beat his sister and gave her the honor of washing dishes at home, for parents Tracy and Lori Yanagi.
“He can hit the ball so far, and it’s unfair to play with him now with his short game. He’s been working on that along with his mental game,” she said. “Pono has grown up so much since last year. When I was in Pullman, I’d call and every time my dad was chipping with Pono or on the putting green.
“At the end of the day, your main competition can hit it the same length, and work the ball just as much as the other person. It comes down to your short game. Pono knows that’s the part of his game he needs to have.”
It’s no surprise that her short game, like her strong irons for approach shots, is turning into a weapon, too.
“One thing I need to always improve on is my short game,” Yanagi said. “It’s improved dramatically because I’ve worked so hard on it. But your short game can always improve, no matter what.”
Then her life motto — make the best out of everything — kicked in, while still thinking about her medalist winning round of par 73 at Wailua.
“I had two three-putts on Kauai,” Yanagi said. “Stuff like that shouldn’t happen. I need to work on that.”
Three Big Island golfers were eliminated from match play in the Hawaii State Golf Associations’ Manoa Cup on Tuesday at Oahu Country Club in Honolulu.
Chris Shimomura, who is from Lahaina, Maui, but played for the University of Hawaii at Hilo last season, beat Keegan Loo 6 and 5 to advance to the round of 32, where he will face Zachary Braunthal.
Nainoa Calip of Pahoa won 4 and 3 over Lion Rogers. A Kamehameha-Hawaii grad who recently wrapped up his golfing career at the University of Hawaii, Calip will play Scott Ichimura today.
Nick Matsushima, the Manoa Cup runner-up in 2012 who will be a senior at UH-Hilo, rebounded from a rough opening day for a 1-up victory over Sj Maeng. Matsushima will face Remington Hirano this morning.
The No. 13 seed was unlucky for Dalen Yamauchi of Hilo. The UH-Hilo golfer was upset by No. 52 Alice B. Kim, who won 2 up.
Kailua-Kona’s Loi Chang-Stroman was beaten by Isaac Jaffurs, 4 and 2.
Shon Katahira, who will be a junior at Waiakea High School, lost 3 and 1 to Scotty Yamashita.
Editor’s note: The Manoa golf capsules were written by Stephens Media Hawaii sports writer Eric Knopsnyder.