College golf: Future stars to tee off at Waikoloa

Jordan Spieth will not be gracing Waikoloa Kings’ Course this week. However, the next Jordan Spieth might be.

Jordan Spieth will not be gracing Waikoloa Kings’ Course this week. However, the next Jordan Spieth might be.

Playing for Texas at the 2012 Amer Ari Invitational, Spieth lost in a playoff on the Kohala Coast, but UH-Hilo golf coach Earl Tamiya remembers thinking that his talent was unmistakable.

“I thought he was a can’t-miss player,” Tamiya said.

Spieth, who claimed the Masters and U.S. Open last season in rising to become the world’s No. 1 player, is golf’s biggest star and Tiger Woods, another tourney alum, has long been its biggest name, but when pressed to name which golfers have impressed him the most the past 24 years at the tournament, Tamiya named two other PGA Tour veterans, Matt Kuchar and Nick Watney.

“I thought they had the right composure and mental toughness,” Tamiya said.

Entering its 25th edition, the collegiate event hosted by the Vulcans continues to be veritable futures tournament for the pros.

Tamiya faces an unenviable task when taking on the big boys on the recruiting trial, and it gets frustrating when Division I schools tab his top players to transfer. But when it comes to inviting teams to Amer Ari, nobody turns him down.

“We get everybody we want,” he said. “There is a wait-list.

“It’s grown into one of the top five tournaments in college golf.”

If there is a future Jordan Spieth in the field this year, the strongest candidates are Auburn senior Michael Johnson, the No. 1-ranked player with a 68.99 adjusted scoring average, and Stanford’s Beau Hossler (69.46), who’s No. 2.

In all, six of the top 20 college golfers will tee off Thursday through Saturday, and joining top-ranked Auburn and No. 5 Stanford in the 19-team field are No. 7 USC, No. 17 Oklahoma State, No. 23 UCLA, defending tournament champion Arizona State and the University of Hawaii.

After a practice round Wednesday, Tamiya and Waikoloa PGA professional Kevin Ginoza will take the wind into account during each of the next three days to determine how tough they want to make the course.

For Tamiya, the windier the better to even things out for the Division II Vulcans.

“We want the course to be a challenge for a good field,” Tamiya. “But the big thing is we also don’t want to embarrass anyone.”

Tamiya said the Vulcans knocked themselves out of contention to make regionals with a poor fall season. He sees a potential bright spot in senior Kyeton Littel. Littel’s best finish at Amer Ari came in 2014, when he carded a 66 in the second round and finished tied for 42nd.

Johnson rose to No. 1 during the fall as he posted three top-five finishes, including a 36-hole school record with a 15-under 129 to take medalist honors at the Primland Collegiate.

The Tigers appear loaded. Sophomore Ben Schlottman is an All-American and each of their five scoring golfers sports averages of 73.25 or better.

“We are glad to get back to competing after a very successful fall season,” coach Nick Clinard said in a release. “We are starting a new season (spring) and look forward to shaking off some rust this week from the holiday break. The team has prepared diligently, so it should be fun to see what we can do against another outstanding field. Aloha!”