They weren’t a golfing couple, not in the way we generally consider the term. They were casual golfers, no obsession, no under-12 handicaps, no weekend golfing trips.
That was then.
One day when her daughter Elle was younger, Mika Otani did what most every parent has done a few times, she looked for something the keiki might be interested in and that’s how they found themselves at the golf course.
“That was pretty much it, that was the start,” said Mika’s husband Alden. “We have no idea where it’s going to end, but it’s kind of exciting to be a part of it.”
The Otani family has become a full-fledged, day-by-day golf family from the parents to their three kids.
It starts with 15 year-old Elle, a sophomore at Waiakea High School who qualified in third place last week for next week’s BIIF championships. Last year, she placed 18th in a field of 44 at the Future Champions Golf International Junior Golf Championships at Carlton Oaks Golf Course, San Diego and was fifth in a field of 67 at the Optimist International Championship 2018 held at Florida’s PGA National Squire Course. Because of that finish, she earned exempt status from the qualifier for 2019 Optimist International Championship qualifier, with an eye on the championship, which will be held at Doral — owned by President Trump — at the end of July.
She is a 4.0 student who takes karate with a potential golf future that has inspired two younger brothers.
Her 13 year-old brother Noah falls in line after placing second in December at the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association Michelle Wie Tournament of Champions at Wailea Emerald Course in Maui.
And then there’s 11 year-old Jake who drained a 20-foot putt for par in December to won the Michelle Wie Tournament of Champions in Maui in a sudden death playoff on the 10th hole.
Alden and Mika Otani own Peach Shells Hawaii (peachshellshawaii.com), a jewelry company, which helps afford the travel they are bargaining to invest in for their three kids, and those bills only figure to increase.
“We try to map it all out, all the tournaments, the travel, what a good finish will mean as far as more travel,” Alden said. “I go with them everywhere.
“No idea,” he said when asked if they had a hunch the kids would be so fired up about golf, “but they all love the sport and everybody likes winning. Golf is a sport that teaches a sense of honor and fair play, ethics, morals, they are all a part of it.
“We want our kids to be good people, good citizens and this game helps, I believe that.”
Otani said they haven’t had a serious discussion about professional golf, “but they’ve said things from time to time, what they are more interested in right now is getting better and getting a scholarship to a college where they might be able to take off.”
The taking off part seems to have already occurred. How high will they fly might be the next question.
We don’t cover a lot of football here in The Scene, but this is an exception because of the timing involved and because it’s about teaching and learning and getting motivated to move, which are things we look for in this corner of the newspaper.
Also, Max Unger, the recently retired 10-year NFL veteran and original Kona boy, will be there.
Richard Kaniho, defensive coordinator for coach Dan Lyons at Kamehameha School Hawaii, has put together what seems a comprehensive weekend of study and effort at the high school on May 17-18.
But the catch is, you only have until Saturday to get registered. It is the Proj3ct Elite Football Camp (register at projectelite.com) and Educational Symposium, an open invitation for all Big Island High School, Pop Warner, Rugby and youth football programs.
On Friday the 17th, all those various groups can be a part of the educational symposium for coaches, players and parents (players from third grade to high schools seniors), at the school auditorium, with dinner included.
The Saturday session on the 18th is for the same groups and will include 5-on-5, 7-on-7 and 1-on-1 challenges, with coaches from nationally ranked St. John Bosco (California), and Unger.
Several universities around the country attach names of their famous players or administrators to end-of-the-year awards that keep history alive and find new ways to motivate players and bring out their best attributes.
One of those is Clemson, where legendary sports information director Tim Bourret has a new award — he just retired a year ago — in his name. Bourret was recently awarded the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award by college sports information directors. Bourret retired from his position as SID in 2018 following 40 years of service, but he won’t be forgotten because the school created an annual award in his name.
The first Tim Bourret Award — to the player who best represents the university in the media — went to Clelin Farrell, the defensive lineman drafted fourth in last week’s NFL draft by the Oakland Raiders.
Granted, there are about a dozen fan boy websites that cover Clemson, along with four in-state papers and, more often, the occasional national publication, so it’s not a direct comparison to UH-Hilo.
But a small tweak can solve that.
The Kelly Leong Award, representing the recently deceased first and longest serving SID at the school, could simply be thought of as going to the one player who best represents UH-Hilo in public. Maybe the winner is involved in charities, maybe he or she works with keiki or golden agers who need some assistance.
It’s a win-win for the school and would create public interest in the school’s athletic department.
Good Guys Last Forever
The Hilo community, specifically the slice of it that includes people who surf and love the ocean, lost a leader recently when Owen Koehnen passed after a brain tumor operated on a few years back, returned.
If you ever visited Kaipaloa Park, at the ocean end of Waineueneue, you were part of Koehnen’s vision for the area.
“Like everything else, he was the first one there to work on (the park),” said Stan Lawrence, long time friend, owner of Orchid Land Surf Shop, and director of the annual Pro-Am surf tournament at Honoli’i. “He was an amazing person, he helped with everything I did, it seemed like, he always willing to volunteer.”
Lawrence announced this week that the 35th Annual Big Island Pro-Am will happen when conditions are pono, between June 8-Sept. 29. Lawrence has to rope off an area at Honoli’i for a judges stand the night before the event, and for safety reasons, he felt it necessary to stay there overnight.
“Owen stayed with me,” Lawrence said. “I never once asked, he thought it might help, so he just showed up. What a great person.”
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