KAILUA-KONA — For young Big Island golfer Blake Nakagawa, his recent trip to San Diego with his father Kiley was an eye-opening experience.
The 6-year-old made some new friends, played some cool golf courses, gorged on big league stadium food and even jarred his first hole in one.
Nakagawa made his first trip to the mainland to compete in the IMG junior qorld championships, which took place at various golf courses throughout the city and included 1,200 of the best golfers from 56 countries and 42 states.
“It was a lot of people,” Nakagawa said. “I was happy for the chance to play with different players and make new friends.”
Nakagawa competed in the boys 6-and-under division with 26 other players. The golfers represented various countries including the United States, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, China, Thailand, England, the Philippines, Guam and Guatemala.
Nakagawa finished sixth overall while playing at Colina Park, a par-3 course located east of San Diego. Nakagawa moved up one spot after every round.
On the first day of the tourney, Nakagawa opened with a 7-over 61, putting him in eighth place.
“I was kind of nervous on the first day but before the first tee shot, I took a deep breath and hit a good shot,” Nakagawa said. “I made par on that first hole.”
To help settle his nerves and keep him in a positive state of mind, Nakagawa’s mom, Miho, who did not make the trip, prepared cards for him to open at the start of every day. These cards included letters of support from family and friends, as well as pictures of his mom, sister and dog.
Nakagawa said opening a card was like Christmas.
“He would open them every morning while brushing his teeth,” said Kiley Nakagawa. “I would keep the pictures in my back pocket every day while he was playing just in case he got nervous.”
Nakagawa shot a 60 on the second day of the tourney, while playing with partners from China and the Philippines. He moved up to seventh in the standings before finishing the final round of the tournament with a 62.
One of the most memorable moments of the tournament for Nakagawa was the opening day ceremony. He was able to walk with the Hawaii flag at Torrey Pines.
“During the ceremony they told us to look up and I saw five or six people jump out of a plane with parachutes,” Nakagawa said. “One was holding a big American flag.”
Nakagawa also won a putting contest on that first day, adding a trophy to his vast collection that he described as about a foot tall.
While the tournament may have been the main purpose of the trip, Nakagawa was able to experience much more, including a trip to the zoo, a couple of Dodgers vs. Padres MLB games and food — lots and lots of food.
It quickly became clear that nothing left a bigger impression on Nakagawa than the food. At the ballgames he helped himself to helping amounts of hot dogs, ice bream, popcorn, french fries, ribs and soda. He also went out for Mexican food, which included enchiladas and quesadillas, as well as Korean BBQ.
When talking about all the food he had, his memory was sharp and he would often correct his dad on what he ate and when he ate it. At the zoo, Nakagawa had a chance to see lions, tigers, elephants, hippos, alligators and a 130-year-old tortoise. His favorite, however, was the lion.
“It was sleeping and looked hot,” Nakagawa said. “It reminded me of my dog.”
At the ballgames, Nakagawa had a chance to go down to the field to meet players and get autographs. One of the players he met was Dodgers All-Star Matt Kemp and he watched him take batting practice.
“It was so loud,” Nakagawa said of the bat making contact with the ball. “He hit the ball so hard one time it broke the bat.”
On a trip filled with first-time experiences, Nakagawa also made his first hole-in-one.
After playing a practice round for the Junior Worlds, Nakagawa went over to the grand opening of a 3-hole course called the Playground at Goat Hill Park in Oceanside.
Nakagawa hit a 56-yard shot to the second tier of a green and then watched the ball role to the bottom tier and drop into the hole for the course’s first-ever hole-in-one.
“Everyone went crazy and I was very excited,” said Nakagawa, who gave a Tiger Woods fist pump after the ball went in. “I had to buy everyone a round of drinks afterward. I signed the scorecard and they took my picture and put it on the wall. I was super happy.”
Next up for the Big Island golfer is the Drive Chip and Putt sub-regional qualifier in Kapolei on Oahu Saturday. It will be a busy weekend for the family. Nakagawa’s sister is also competing in the 43rd annual Queen Liliuokalani Keiki Hula competition.
“He competes early on Saturday and then we will have to jet back for her competition at 2 p.m. on Saturday,” said Riley Nakagawa.
Blake Nakagawa will also be competing in the U.S. Kids World Championships at Pinehurst in North Carolina during the first week of August. The tournament is considered the biggest in the world for junior golfers and the 6-and-under division will feature 90 of the best international players, including many whom Nakagawa played with in San Diego.
“I will need to train a lot since I ate all that bad food,” Nakagawa said.