Casey’s Kids

With phenoms such as Michelle Wie and Cyd Okino among his most successful products, Casey Nakama has kids lining up by the hundreds for golf lessons at Olomana

Friday - January 13, 2006
By Lisa Asato
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Aiko Leong takes her putting seriously
Aiko Leong takes her
putting seriously

At the edge of Waimanalo on the sprawling Olomana Golf Links, wild chickens roam and junior golfers in white polos abound. The young golfers, numbering more than a hundred, gather round the driving range where local pros Dean Wilson and Parker McLachlin dispense advice while producing 250-plus-yard-long drives.

“How many of you kids are 12 and younger? Raise your hands,” says Wilson, originally of Kaneohe, and now a PGAplayer who will be in this week’s Sony Open at Waialae Country Club.

Dozens of hands go up. “All you guys are starting golf before me,” he says to the students of the Casey Nakama Junior Golf Development Program. “I didn’t start until I was about 13-and-a-half years old. So when I started, I had all these young kids like you guys who would (outdo) me every day. So the only way I could get better was to come out and hit balls and practice ... So you guys have such a good opportunity being young to start the game.”


Casey’s kids watch PGA pro Dean Wilson of Kaneohe demonstrate how it’s done
Casey’s kids watch PGA pro Dean Wilson of Kaneohe
demonstrate how it’s done

Starting the game under Nakama’s tutelage may be a wise move. It worked well for Michelle Wie, who turned pro last October, six days shy of her 16th birthday, and who will be making her third appearance in the Sony Open.

Stellar players who started from scratch in this program include Cyd Okino, who last year became the youngest to win (at age 11 years and 200 days) the Hawaii State Amateur Women’s Match Play Championships at Oahu CC. Bradley Shigezawa, winner of the 2005 Optimist International Junior Golf Championship, is also a student. “It’s a great program,” he says. “And for anybody who’s either playing golf for awhile or just starting, it’s good to come to this program ‘cause it’s led me to success, and I believe it can help others.”

Youngsters in the school hope to be like Bradley Shigezawa
Youngsters in the school hope to be like Bradley
Shigezawa

Nakama, who says he “loves the part of preparing for competition and helping kids prepare for competition,” is enjoying his post as Director of Instruction. “I’ve won tournaments as a professional ... but right now nothing has come close to watching these kids become really good players,” he says.

Students here learn how to grip, putt, swing and hit the ball. They also learn etiquette, order of play and the essential short game.

When the program started about 10 years ago, it began as a class for select golfers. Then mom Gail Haraguchi intervened. She asked about beginning classes for her son and nephews, and she offered to help Nakama by organizing rosters and newsletters. Nakama agreed, and a combination of unique format and reputation took care of the rest.

Bradley Shigezawa, who won the 2005 national Optimist International Championship
Bradley Shigezawa, who
won the 2005 national
Optimist International
Championship

“We were the only program that was training the kids to learn the proper etiquette and learn the basic fundamentals to play the game,” he says. At a time when other junior golf programs consisted mainly of chipping, putting and hitting balls on the range, Nakama introduced course play for the kids. “When we started letting the kids go out for four holes, six holes, nine holes, the program, again by word of mouth, it just blew up. At the same time, Tiger Woods hit the scene, golf became cool to play. We had kids sign up whose parents didn’t even play golf. ... Now I have at least 50 percent of the parents who don’t play golf, and that’s really unusual.”

Frank and Cindy Silva of Mililani aren’t golfers, but they’re watching their two sons grow up to be. Last Saturday, they, along

 

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