Manoa Cup Favors Young Golfers

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - June 16, 2010
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After working your way around the 6,041 yards of roller-coaster fairways and table-top greens at Oahu Country Club, it becomes clear why the Manoa Cup is a young person’s event - it’s just too tough of a course played over too many days and too many rounds for most golfers in the middle-spread years to seriously compete.

Those who recall the history of the event will correctly point out that George Nahale Sr. set the record for middle-aged excellence with his victory in 1956 at the age of 51. But that was a rare feat, and Nahale wasn’t just another local golfer. He was good enough to win the state’s premiere amateur event the year before.

The same could be said for 42-year-old Jonathan Ota, who took the traditional leap into the pool four years ago and was the runner-up last year.

But outside of those examples, the 2010 winner will likely be someone too young to remember anything other than 460 cc drivers and shafts long enough to swing from the other side of the tee box.

Over the past decade, teenagers have dominated the field to such an extent that 2007 champion Kurt Nino (22) seems rather old in comparison. Last year it was 19-year-old University of Hawaii golfer T.J. Kua. The year before Alex Ching (18) took the honors. Travis Toyama became the youngest-ever champ by winning as a 15-year-old in 2002 and followed it up with another win in ‘05.

Andrew Feldman, the head professional at Oahu Country Club, which has hosted the tournament since 1933, said there is good reason why youth has replaced experience at the winner’s table.

“What changed is the number of junior golfers who are participating,” says Feldman. “When I started here in 1998 we had a spattering of junior golfers. Now I would say 70 percent of the players are college or junior golfers.

“The junior players also are so much better now. In the late ‘90s the kids were good, but maybe just the top three juniors could compete. But now all can compete.”

The format doesn’t favor the game’s elders, either.

Monday is the typical qualifier, where everyone but the previous year’s winner must compete for a seeding in this match-play event. This year, 104 individuals competed for those coveted 64 slots. Those good - and lucky - enough to qualify advance to single events on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Friday, it’s two 18-hole matches with a 36-hole final on Saturday.

If you don’t want to do the math, that’s eight rounds of golf in six days - or a possible 126 holes, or more. Fortunately, things have gotten easier.

Four years ago, Tuesday was a 36-hole day that Feldman says left the older amateurs already weary come Wednesday. Which just makes the accomplishments of Nahale and Dick Sieradzki, who flew at night for Hawaiian Airlines and then played in the morning on his way to the 1990 championship, even more impressive.

Picking a winner is nearly impossible. Kua, the No. 1 seed, has plenty of course knowledge, surprising distance for his 5-foot-9-inch frame and a deft touch on the greens. In March he won the Hawaii Amateur Stroke Play Championship by four strokes over 2009 Turtle Bay Amateur Champion Bradley Shigezawa. But that hardly makes him a shoo-in.

No matter who walks away wet and winded, the biggest star of the week will be the tournament itself.

The Manoa Cup is the fourth-oldest tournament in the United States behind only the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur and Western Open, and it remains perhaps the toughest test of golf in the Islands. Also cool is that you can follow the frustration online at

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