Worth your while: Waiakea grad Kanno latest to play Division I college golf, signs with Hawaii

  • Waiakea graduate Isaiah Kanno, right, signed to play at Hawaii one year after Kamehameha-Hawaii alum Pono Yanagi, left, signed to play at Washington State. (Hawaii Tribune-Herald/File Photo)

At a Drive Chip &Putt Championship age-group qualifier at Hilo Municipal Golf Course in the spring of 2014, one parent had a matter-of-fact reminder for the Tribune-Herald.

“Basketball season is over; it’s golf season now,” Kirby Kanno said.

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The suggestion was that more youth golf coverage was in order. Considering how many Division I college prospects the Big Island has produced since then, his was sage advice. Of course, Kanno probably had an idea of the talent that was developing in the local pipeline, especially in his own household.

Recent Waiakea graduate Isaiah Kanno is the latest product of that pipeline, signing with Hawaii after making the necessarily adjustments to win over Rainbow Warriors coach Ronn Miyashiro.

“My goal was to just play college golf at any place,” said Kanno, who never made it a goal to play D-I, nor was he considering many other offers. “I decided to go to UH not just for their golf program but also to move away and mature as a person in college while staying pretty close to Hilo.”

In the Hawaii state amateur ranks, Kanno has had bragging rights for more than 11 weeks. He never got to tee it up for his senior high school season, but perhaps his biggest victory came at the state amateur stroke play championship in mid-March. Days after the tournament, the coronavirus pandemic shut down competitive play.

Miyashiro took notice. In announcing the signing in May, he said Kanno “within the last year has clearly established himself as maybe the best golfer to come out of Hawaii in this year’s class.”

Early on in the recruitment process, Miyashiro said he had frank discussions with Kanno about the improvements he needed to make to earn the opportunity at UH.

“He said that I was a good player but I was inconsistent and my scores on my bad days were too big,” Kanno said. “I was able to improve the parts of my golf game that I was weak in both physically and mentally, and through that I was able to lower my scores and become a more consistent and better player.”

Kirby Kanno introduced his son to the game at age 4. About eight years later at that drive/chip/putt qualifier at Hilo Muni, Kanno finished second in his age group. The big star of that day was Pono Yanagi, who showed off his powerful driver in an older group. Kanno and Yanagi each would go on to win a BIIF championship, though Kanno won his first as a freshman. In the 2018 Hawaii State Junior Golf Association championship, the two went to a playoff before Kanno emerged the winner with a par at Hokulia. Yanagi signed with Washington State last season, competing in all seven of the Cougars’ tournaments and averaging 74.65 per round, third-best on the team.

Kanno’s BIIF title in 2017 continued a legacy at Waiakea after Trevor Hirata won three consecutive crowns from 2014-16. Kanno again will follow in the footsteps of Hirata, who wrapped up an abbreviated senior season at Manoa in February. One of Kanno’s teammates as a freshman was BIIF runner-up Shon Katahira, who signed at Oregon State.

Kanno plans to study finance at UH and is happy to make regular trips to courses now that many restrictions have been loosened and lifted.

“I was able to play in Kona a couple of times, but my game got a little rusty,” he said.

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His father once asked for a little notoriety for the island’s youth golfers, and college coaches have certainly liked what they’ve seen since.

“Took his credit he took (my) advise …,” Miyashiro said. “We look for (Isaiah) to have a smooth transition to the Division I level and contribute to our team immediately.”

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