Golf: Japan retains title at Asia Pacific Junior Cup

  • Hawaii's Lacey Uchida hits an approach shot onto the 18th green during the find day of the Asia Pacific Cup on Tuesday at Waikoloa Kings' Course. (Rick Winters/West Hawaii)
  • Japan's Kotoko Uchida reacts after missing a putt during the find day of the Asia Pacific Cup on Tuesday at Waikoloa Kings' Course. (Rick Winters/West Hawaii)
  • Japan's Konoha Okada hits from the sand on the 18th hole during the find day of the Asia Pacific Cup on Tuesday at Waikoloa Kings' Course. (Rick Winters/West Hawaii)
  • Hawaii's Kyung Eun Lee chips from just off the green on the 18th hole during the find day of the Asia Pacific Cup on Tuesday at Waikoloa Kings' Course. (Rick Winters/West Hawaii)

WAIKOLOA — Hawaii had the home course advantage, but Japan proved too powerful at the Asia Pacific Junior Cup, retaining the title with an 18-14 victory at the Waikoloa Kings’ Course on Tuesday.

The event brought together 32 of the best young players from Hawaii and Japan. There were 10 boys and six girls on each team, playing in a Ryder Cup-style tournament designed to foster good will between young golfers, ages 13-18 from both organizations. This was the 12th edition of the international event.

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“It was a lot of fun,” said Pono Yanagi, one of three Big Island golfers competing, Lacey Uchida and Isaiah Kanno being the others. “We got to see a little of what’s out there in the golf world and learned a lot.”

Uchida, who golfs during the high school season with Waiakea, said she embraced the strong competition.

“They are tough,” she said of the Japan squad. “They are really consistent, on the pin, making putts — no mistakes.”

The team element of the tournament was unique, bringing a new kind of camaraderie to a game that is more often than not an individual sport.

“It’s a total different experience,” Uchida said. “When you fall, you have your teammates to back you up. Most of the time if you fall, that’s it.”

The tournament featured three days of competition. First up was four-ball match play on Sunday, followed by four-some match on Monday and wrapping up with singles match play on Tuesday.

Japan took a one-point lead into the second round and stretched that advantage to three heading into Day 2. While the singles matches were hotly contested, the stars from across the Pacific Ocean retained the cup, edging Hawaii.

“I really felt like it was all about the team,” Hawaii captain Matt Rollins said, who is also the Executive Director for Hawaii State Junior Golf Association. “These players were committed to each other and to representing Hawaii from the very start. They should be very proud of their performance.”

The heated competition cooled off after the final hole, with the teams meeting at the clubhouse for photos and some festivities. The youth golfers garnering the experience of being around another culture and making friends from different parts of the world is a large part of the event.

“It’s a lot of fun for them,” Rollins said. “The kids exchange Facebooks and Instagrams. Then they get to learn a little Japanese, and vice versa.”

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The event was hosted by the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association at the Kings’ Course for the first nine years before the Japan High School Golf Association took over hosting duties in Miyazaki, Japan in 2016 and 2017. The tournament will rotate between Waikoloa and Miyazaki moving forward.

“It’s a huge opportunity for the kids,” Rollins said. “They learn a lot and get a lot of unique experiences by getting into junior golf.”