For such a small player, Blake Nakagawa has continued to grow into one of the Big Island’s most successful young golfers.
The 8-year-old Kailua-Kona native competed in the U.S. Kids Golf Foundation’s Palm Springs Open this weekend, and finished tied for second in the boys 8 group with a 2-under 70. The finish earned him a spot in next year’s U.S. Kids Golf World Championship at North Carolina’s Pinehurst.
Nakagawa went into Sunday’s final round at 3-under 33 and in first place. By the end of the day Sunday, Nakagawa had tied for second with Santa Cruz, California’s Kaeden Schabel. Both golfers finished behind first-place Cameron Amen, from Yorba Linda, California, who carded a 3-under 69.
“I’m pretty happy because this tournament qualifies me for Pinehurst next year,” Nakagawa said. “But 1% of me is a little sad because I could’ve won I think.”
Since the U.S. shutdown in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, Nakagawa has competed this summer in the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association Match Play Championship, benefiting the Hawaii Food Bank. He also competed in the 2020 U.S. Kids Golf World Championship at Pinehurst the last weekend of July, but didn’t finish near the top of his age group.
In the 2019 tournament, Nakagawa had better luck and tied for fifth. The 2021 world championship will take place July 29-31, 2021.
Nakagawa has been playing the sport since he was a toddler, and for an 8-year-old who has spent almost his whole life on the golf course, the Palm Springs Open this year was a bit different.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, few spectators were allowed at Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort in Southern California to cheer on Nakagawa. And while he hasn’t been able to play many tournaments on his home on the Big Island to prepare for the regional event, he’s still been able to keep up his game by practicing with his coach and family.
“It felt a little weird because there weren’t as many spectators and we had to social distance everywhere,” Nakagawa said. “I kept myself in tournament shape by always challenging my coach, Nainoa, and Uncle Kala every week.”
Nakagawa and his family said because of the lack of local tournaments for keiki in Hawaii at the moment, Nakagawa’s next tournament he plans on participating in is the U.S. Kids Monterey Challenge, to take place Nov. 7-8 at three golf courses in California.
Nakagawa has used the down time over the last few months to continue to improve his game.
“Over COVID, I’ve been really working on my irons,” Nakagawa said. “I always love to practice chipping and putting.”