Talk Story: Stephanie Shinno

  • Photo courtesy Stephanie Shinno

    Members of the California State University, Monterey Bay women’s golf team pose in 2001. Pictured are Autumn Aquinaldo, Gina Battaglia, Allison Furgeson, Stephanie Shinno and Courtney Porras.

  • Nick Celario / The Garden Island

    Kauai High School girls golf coach Stephanie Shinno stops for a photo at Plantation Coffee Co. in Lihue.

Stephanie Shinno didn’t exactly pursue the sport of golf early on. Her father made her do it as a child.

Now as an adult, much of her life surrounds it. Shinno is the tournament director of Kauai Junior Golf Association, and she’s the girls golf coach for Kauai High School.

With the Red Raider girls, she shares her experience — albeit brief experience — from playing collegiately at California State University, Monterey Bay. If any of her players aspire to continue on in college, she serves as a source of information to them in addition to coaching.

And the reason her college career was cut short was because she decided to return home to Kauai following the events of Sept. 11.

Shinno sat down with The Garden Island and talked about the ups and downs of her journey with golf.

So, how’s coaching the high schoolers?

It’s a challenge. I’m very proud of them, though. They’ve come a long way, even though everything was against them. They didn’t have a coach until late in the season and they didn’t have a preseason. They pretty much had to practice on their own. I appreciate the community, the parents and everybody coming together and pitching in. That’s what we need. We need to protect the girls so they can focus on golf.

Big shoes to fill. Last year was Casey Watabu, my old teammate. Back in the day, there wasn’t boys and girls. It was just one team. So, I got to play with the boys. … He’s an amazing golfer himself, and he’s on the board for Kauai Junior Golf. Whenever I need (advice), I’ll shoot him an email and he’ll shoot back.

So, I’m really learning from everybody. I was told it’s going to be tough the first year because everybody’s going to be focusing on adjustments. You know, new coach. So, I’m just looking forward to see what I can learn and how we come out.

But for states is what I really craft their (game). There’s no way they should have been 10th last year or the year before. I know Punahou has been for a decade, but even before Punahou was in first place, it was Kauai High School and other schools. So, we’re trying to make them believe they can do this. It’s a journey. I feel honored.

You’ve been the coach for a while now. Is it what you expected? Harder or easier?

It’s definitely nothing you know walking into. Every day is like walking on eggshells. You don’t know what to expect, especially with teenagers. I’ve never dealt with teenagers before. Now, my assertiveness in the workforce is totally different. When you’re dealing with teenagers, you have to be sensible. You have to communicate and hold their hand or else they’ll take it the wrong way.

There’s some challenges. … You got to make sure that it’s all about the kids. Just, each week, I give them weekly goals that they can focus on. But pretty much, yeah, I’m proud of where we’re at now. We have a better relationship, and we’re excited about (starting the season).

With coach, being tournament director for KJGA and work, it sounds like a lot. How are you handling things?

This, lunch right here, these are golden to me. This is where I can think, just relax or tune out.

Sorry to take this away from you.

No, it’s cool. This is new.

It’s a lot. I’ve been sick these past two weeks. But coach (Jennifer Hreljac), she’s been there so I can work my full-time job. And when I come there at 5:15, I take over. She’s been so helpful with the kids. Also, Steve Murphy who’s now our swing coach, he part-time helps with their swing, which is nice.

We work with their course management, their time management, their attitudes and their swings. It’s very easy when you have a community-minded group that cares about the kids. I can’t do it without them.

So can you take me back to when you first started in golf?

I wasn’t actually into golf. I was a singer/songwriter, an introverted child. I’m very creative. That’s why I’m in marketing. I guess that’s something I can tune into. My dad was the one that got me into it. I was never the best golfer, but I always got better. I think for me, I appreciate it now that I’m an adult. Knowing all the issues I faced, I just wanted to help the girls have a better mentality and like the sport.

When did you know that you were becoming good?

When I started beating girls that were better than me. Like, there was this incident.

I wasn’t always the first-place winner, so I never went to the next tournament first big trophy. There was this incident where I did play well at Makai Golf Course, and everybody was telling me, “Good job.” But I was only shooting like 80-something. I didn’t even break 70, but it was my first time (with) low scores.

I had that girl that was always better than me. … She went to the (first-place trophy), and then she put the bowl down. I was like, ‘How come she put the bowl down?’ She normally wins first place. I went up there, and I saw my name. I was like, “Whoa.”

It was that moment that I knew I could do something with this. Then, I started practicing more. I was there before anybody. After practice, I picked up balls when the range was done. I asked my dad, “Dad, can you help me?” Nobody wants their dads to help them. It’s stressful, but I knew that I had to listen. I had to change something if I wanted to get better.

That’s when we tried for (California State) Monterey Bay. They were pioneering their first women’s team. Title XI, right? And then they said, “Can you get this on your SAT score?” I got it, and then I filled out the application. And they’re like, “OK. We’re sending you a letter of intent.”

Back in the day, I didn’t know what that was. Today, it’s a huge event. That’s why I said, “Girls, if you ever get a letter of intent, we’re going to make it a huge event.” Back in the day, it wasn’t like this. So when I had that letter, I was like, “Wow. This is cool.” Still, I was an introverted child, and people were so proud. They were so proud. Wherever you go, you were put on this pedestal. It was so uncomfortable. I just wanted to play golf.

After 9/11, I was like, “Let me be real with myself and go back home.” My parents were unhappy with it, but I wanted a sense of what was real. So now, even though I’m coaching now, we have team goals. … It’s helping them see that no matter what obstacles they go through, we’re going to do it together. It’s never too late. I graduated in 2016 with my bachelor’s degree in communications.

Golf is, like, a forever sport. Think about it. Can you play it forever? Pretty much. I see old people on the golf course all the time. But reaching your potential? You can’t let yourself down. You got to have that self-respect and go for it. So, that’s where I’m at.

You mentioned something about 9/11 and decided to return home. Can you talk about that more?

Yeah. I dropped out. I don’t like that word, but, I just thought there was more to life. Like, you see the airplanes, and you’re in lockdown at Monterey. … You’re on a military base at CSU Monterey Bay. It’s pretty traumatic for an 18-year-old, you know? And then you see it on TV. “Where was the tower?” And then you see the second plane hit. … And then you go to the Bay Area — San Francisco — with your friends, and there’s nobody there. Nobody. Can you imagine? The Wharf, the San Francisco area, there no one. Crazy. There was nobody out.

It was so eerie. But then it went to Carmel, and they were like, “Don’t worry. Just act normal.” You can hear it on the radio. “Don’t have fear. You don’t want to show them that you have fear. Just have a normal day.” I’m like, “Oh, my God. There’s more to life than golf.”

How innocent I was, and all this stuff that led up to me realizing enough was enough. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself. … This is the crazy part. My dad is in Japan right now protecting our country, building the launch missiles and all that for protection. My mom is in the Philippines taking care of family. I’m here, and I’m like, “Wow. Why are you guys so far away?” But there’s a reason for everything. Now, I get to visit Japan, in Okinawa. I get to visit my mom. It’s going to be a huge reunion. … That pretty much sums it up. Life is going to drop you so many turns. Just go with the flow and bloom where you’re at, and see if you can help other people.

So you were only at Monterey Bay for one year?

Yeah, one year, 2000 to 2001. They couldn’t even find any other girls. Now, they’re winners. I was looking at their website — winners of the NAIA championship, the boys. Now, it’s a whole different ballgame. So, it’s exciting that I got to be part of the pioneers — the “test rats” we called it.

So, yeah. I just want to help. Even though I play and travel, I want to show these girls that they can do it and what to expect. You put a country girl out there, on the Mainland, it’s totally different than a (Mainlander) coming to Kauai. … Up there, it’s fast-paced and different cultures. You got Mexican people saying, “Hey, you’re my cousin. We’re cousins.” You’re like, “Oh, OK. All right.” You know? So, yeah. It’s just been a journey, and I just want to give back.

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