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Three junior golfers defend home turf at Hualalai

  • HSJGA photo Hilo's Leo Saito claimed the ages 7-10 division at the Big Island Junior Classic, closing with a 2-over 74 to eke out a one-shot victory against Honolulu’s Brycen James Massey with a 36-hole 150.

  • HSJGA photo Dysen Park has won the past three Hawaii State Junior Golf Association events he's entered. On Monday, he tied for first at the Big Island Junior Classic at Hualalai and won a scorecard playoff.

  • Playing in his first golf tournament since the onset of the pandemic, Kaha‘i‘olelo Helm claimed the ages 11-12 title Monday at the Big Island Junior Classic.

Dysen Park can hardly lose these days on the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association tour, and he might not even be the hottest Big Island junior golfer at the moment.

That honor could belong to Hilo’s Leo Saito, though don’t forget about Keaau’s Kaha‘i‘olelo Helm.

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All three golfers defended their home turf Monday and brought home age-group titles at the Big Island Junior Classic at Hualalai.

Saito ruled the ages 7-10 division for the second consecutive week, closing with a 2-over 74 to eke out a one-shot victory against Honolulu’s Brycen James Massey with a 36-hole 150.

“My favorite part of the day was having fun out there with my friends,” Saito said. “The weather was surprising. It was raining and windy yesterday and steaming hot today.”

Saito, who was coming off a victory at the Kauai Junior, said he nearly made a hole-in-one on No. 5, instead settling for one of his four birdies on the day.

“I remember that hole the most,” said the 10-year-old Saito, who’s been playing golf for three years. “I’ve been working hard on my putting, and it has helped me a lot in the tournaments.”

Kailua-Kona’s Blake Nakagawa (159) was third with Hilo’s Benjamin Harris (173) fifth.

In the 11-12 division, Helm made a triumphant return in his first tournament since February 2020.

“I’m really happy and proud of myself on being consistent and making good decisions during the two days,” said Helm, a seventh-grader at Ke Kula ‘O Nawahiokalani‘opu‘u.”

It’s his second win at the Big Island junior, with the earlier win coming in ages 9-10.

He carded a second consecutive 5-over 77 for a four-shot win.

“I think the biggest difference was my decision-making and focusing on my game and not worrying about others. This is something I’ve been trying to work on,” Helm said.

“My short game worked extremely well this weekend. I want to thank Coach Kevin Hayashi for working with me.”

Kailua-Kona’s Remi Heimgartner (191) was third.

In the 15-18 division, Park, a Waiakea High junior, won the third consecutive HSJGA tournament he’s entered.

“I would say my confidence is pretty much the same as before,” he said. “Not to say I think I should win every tournament I play, but I feel like I’ve finally started playing the golf I know I can play.”

This win seemed in doubt until he caught Oahu’s Dane Watanabe on the back nine.

Park birdied Nos. 17-18 for a 4-under-68 that caught Watanabe at 1-under 141. In lieu of a playoff, Park was given the win thanks his lower back nine (32).

“I wouldn’t say anything came as a surprise today,” Park said, “but I think my best holes weren’t actually my birdie holes, but holes 15 and 16, where I didn’t hit the best shots but made really solid up and downs for par.”

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Kailua-Kona’s Katsuhiro Yamashita was 11 strokes back in third.

The other age division winners were all from Oahu: Ashley Koga (girls 15-18, 153); Ashley Koga (girls 13-14, 146); Kady Matsumoto (girls 11-12, 145); Keelee Nogawa (girls 7-10, 167); and Jackson Ibarra (boys 7-10, 152).

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