Kamehameha senior golfer Dillon Ah Chong didn’t add a BIIF championship to his trophy collection, but he got the next best thing — a final meet against rising Kealakehe sophomore Kevin Yamashita that felt like one.
Ah Chong relied on his consistency and experience to fire an even-par 71 in the last BIIF meet of the pandemic season on Monday at Hilo Muni to beat Yamashita by four shots.
How’s this for consistency: Ah Chong had two birdies on No. 3 and 15 and two bogeys on 2 and 8. He piled up 14 pars and was 1 over on the front nine and 1 under on the back. He closed like clockwork with pars on the last three holes.
Yamashita, who won two BIIF meets and tied for first in another on familiar West Hawaii courses, had a roller-coaster scorecard. He had birdies on No. 1, 11, and 14, and bogeys on 3, 6, 13. He had dreaded double bogeys on 10 and 17.
In 2019 as a sophomore, Ah Chong finished runner-up to BIIF champion and teammate Pono Yanagi. Last season was wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic.
At least, Ah Chong had the opportunity to play a final round of BIIF golf on his home course. There wasn’t a title on the line, only a great time with friendly competition breathing down his neck.
“I just wanted to go out and have fun,” he said. “It was my last one, so I wanted to enjoy it and shoot a good number, so I’m happy with 71. I’m happy to go under par on the back nine to get myself even.
“My putting and chipping were really good, got up and down when I needed to. I made a few mistakes here and there but came back with birdies. It was great playing with Kevin. I get to practice with him, so the competition is always good, and he pushes the both of us.”
Ah Chong will next golf at New Mexico, where the Lobos recently won their second straight Mountain West Conference title.
There are no golfers from Hawaii on the roster, but coach Glen Millican runs a competitive program, so Ah Chong will feel right at home. Millican has won eight conference championships and made seven NCAA appearances, the last in 2013 with a fifth-place finish.
Meanwhile, Yamashita is full of potential. He just hit his growth spurt and is 5 feet 9 and lanky, but he has a lot of room to add muscle once he gets on a strength and conditioning program.
His rise from a golfer who would shoot an 85 to someone who’s 10 strokes better is an interesting tale, and it starts with his mom, Joanne Moon, who’s Korean but lived in Japan.
Yamashita was born on the Big Island and was taught the game’s fundamentals when he was 3 years old by his mom, who emphasized a strong grip. But his turning point came in February when he hooked up with Brady Riggs, who was named Hualalai’s director of golf last November.
Here’s an interesting tale about Riggs, who’s a PGA Top 100 instructor: His daughter Madison played soccer at UC Irvine until she injured her knee. She gave up soccer and turned to golf, and now the Anteater senior is one of the team’s best golfers. She had a team-best 75.49 scoring average over 19 rounds in 2019-20. In her senior year, she played in three rounds and had a 77 average.
“His mom taught him everything he knows,” second-year Kealakehe coach Justin Lee said. “Brady just enhanced it. His passion is giving back to the kids. He also teaches Blake Nakagawa, the 9-year-old from Kona.
“Kevin has a 4.2 GPA, and we stress academics first. Our golf program does community service, and we clean the Makalei Golf Club’s course. We practice at a college level with pro-level drills.”
The goal is to get Yamashita in mainland golf tournaments where he can be scouted by colleges. Maybe he ends up in the Mountain West or Pac-12 where Yanagi is golfing for Washington State, his sister Nani’s old school.
“It was quite an experience playing with Dillon,” Yamashita said. “He was hitting really well, so I definitely felt the pressure. But overall, it was really fun. We were laughing, having jokes and stuff.”
Unfortunately, the fun wasn’t extended to members of the 2019 Waiakea team that won the HHSAA championship: Lacey Uchida, who’s headed to Colorado State, and Kailey Oki, both seniors. The Warriors return Kiersten Saludares and Elle Otani for their senior seasons in 2022.
Amy Huh, Makua Lani’s freshman sensation in 2019, returned home to Korea.
For the boys, Waiakea’s seniors from the 2019 BIIF champion team are Kobey Babas and Isaac Inouye. The Warriors return Dysen Park for his junior year in 2022 and welcome Noah Otani (Elle’s brother) as a sophomore.
Hopefully, in 2022, a new BIIF rivalry will be formed, featuring Park, Yamashita, and Otani. That should be fun and very competitive.
Dillon Ah Chong, Kamehameha 37-34–71
Kevin Yamashita, Kealakehe 38-37–75
Yuga Tsuji, HPA 42-40–82
Caleb Makoff, Makua Lani 43-41–84
Aiden Richardson, HPA 51-56–107
Luke Keliikuli, Kamehameha 58-59–117
Keawe Tolentino, Honokaa 72-56–128
Isabella Rodriguez, HPA 47-44–91
Tillie Browning, HPA 48-47–95