It was the first match play battle between Dysen Park and Dillon Ah Chong, who both turned a long day into a friendly fight to the finish at the Big Island final of the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association event.
Park beat Ah Chong 4 and 3 on a sun-baked Monday at Hilo Municipal Golf Course to earn a spot to the Michelle Wie Tournament of Champions, slated for December on Maui.
“I was shaky at the start, but I refocused and had a good day,” said Park, a Waiakea sophomore. “My putting was pretty good. If anything, the best part of my game was my putting.”
After the turn, Park was 1 up. Then he started to roll, winning the 11th, 13th, and 15th holes. Ah Chong, a Kamehameha senior, ran out of holes.
The key hole was the 363-yard 15th hole, a dogleg right that requires a long fade shot. Both golfers have nice cut shots and work the ball beautifully from left to right.
Both landed safely in the fairway and had an opportunity to set themselves up nicely with their approach shots. Park hit his second shot high, deep, and far. It settled about 15 feet in back of the hole. He took a comfortable two putt to close the hole.
Ah Chong put a little too much mustard on his approach, and it went in back of the green. Then he had every duffer’s nightmare: From below the green on a steep incline, he caught a shot fat that caught the lip of the green and rolled back.
His fourth shot set up a 4-foot putt, which he drained. But Park was 4 up and there were only three holes left.
In the spirit of camaraderie and love of golf, the two decided to finish out the final three holes for fun.
“I was scrambling, but you can’t scramble all day,” Ah Chong said. “I set myself up into some bad positions, and he made some great putts.”
Park took a 1 up lead on the fourth hole, a 412-yard airline strip, straight and narrow, a good test for accurate hitters.
They both had a chance to make birdie on the par 4 hole. Park drained a 6-foot putt. Ah Chong had an 8-footer, but the ball didn’t listen, and Park took the hole. Both were practically equal in distance off the tee.
But Park was better with his approach shots and putting, the deadly 1-2 punch of golf. Get on the green and give yourself a chance to card a low number. Ah Chong sometimes ran into tree trouble, finding his ball in bad spots, which led to pitch outs, costing him a hole. But sometimes his scrambling ability secured a save and sometimes it did not.
On the ninth hole, a 394-yard straight arrow, Ah Chong pitched out from a tree and made a 4-foot putt on the par 4 hole.
Park found the fairway and had a chance with a similar 4-foot putt for par, but he missed and saw his lead drop to 1 up at the turn.
That’s the thing about match play — it rewards aggressiveness but doesn’t punish as harshly as stroke play. Even if you hit 10 bad shots, it’s only a lost hole. In stroke play, that’s game over.
Park just didn’t beat himself. He doesn’t hit wayward drives or approach shots that bounce into someone’s garage. He’s routinely around the green and has enough of a short game to stick a pin in opponents.
He took the 11th and 13th holes the same way: drop an approach close to the flag and finish with close-range putts.
“It means a lot to me,” he said. “I proved to myself that I can play with older guys and it gave me comfort in my game.”