WAIKOLOA — Leia Chung might be young, but the Leilehua freshman was familiar with the age-old adage: it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
She lived by those words on Wednesday at the HHSAA girls golf championship.
After a tough front nine — which featured four bogeys on the first seven holes — the strong-willed Mule did not falter in the face of adversity, using back-to-back birdies on the final two holes to secure a golden finish to her first high school season.
Chung went 72-73 at the two-day tournament to finish with a 1-over par 145 at the Waikoloa Kings’ Course, earning top individual honors.
“It feels so good,” said Chung shortly after sinking the winning putt. “I’m so grateful for this opportunity. I owe it all to my parents, friends and family back home.”
Chung is the first individual champion not from Punahou since 2011. She’s the first champion from Leilehua since 2004 — right around the time she was born.
“I’m going to savor everything about this,” Chung said. “The course was so nice, the people were so awesome and everyone in this tournament were great competitors.”
With a stellar approach shot on the par 5 18th that landed her within 10 feet of the pin, she needed just a short putt for birdie. As she lined up her shot, there was some obvious pressure, but the Leilehua standout said she didn’t know exactly how much was at stake at the time.
“I kind of knew my score but I didn’t know anyone else’s,” Chung said. “I really had no idea.”
Chung had entered the final hole in a tie with Moanalua’s Tagirilani Luafalealo, who led for the majority of the day and had a chance to send the tournament to a playoff. However, the Na Menehune junior missed on her lengthy birdie try, settling for par and second place.
It was almost the exact same situation as the OIA championship last month, when Chung nailed a 20-foot birdie putt for the victory, edging Luafalealo by a single stroke.
Luafalealo and Chung shared a moment and a hug after turning in their scorecards.
“She’s a great golfer,” Chung said. “I don’t see her as a competitor or rival — she’s my friend.”
Waiakea’s Lacey Uchida finished third, the highest finish for a BIIF golfer since 2013.
Chung was tied for the lead after the first round, but her morning was memorable for all the wrong reasons as her championship campaign quickly became an uphill battle.
“It was a struggle with the putter early,” said Chung of the three-consecutive bogeys. “I wasn’t feeling the speed of the greens like I was yesterday.”
It was a situation her coach, Traci Kashiwabara, had rarely seen.
“During the season, she would almost always bounce back from a bogey and not go back-to-back,” Kashiwabara said. “I can’t remember a time she had three in a row.”
But as the deficit mounted, the young Mule never made the situation too dire, shifting her focus from making par to making bogey in the tough spots.
“I told myself, If I don’t have an opportunity to make a par, make a bogey — no doubles,” Chung said. “That turned out to be a good strategy, because if I had any doubles, it probably wouldn’t have turned out like this.”
“One hole at a time — every stroke counts,” Kashiwabara added. “When we got to the back nine I asked her if she was warmed up, and she gave me a nod.”
Chung played bogey-free the rest of the way after the early miscues, but had to get herself out of some trouble on the par 4 16th. After her second shot went into the hazard and she took a one-stroke penalty, Chung was able to chip-in and save par, which had an extra degree of importance as Luafalealo recorded bogey.
“I really felt like that was the turning point for me,” Chung said.
Next up at the Kings’ Course is the boys tournament, which kicks off today and runs through Friday.