PO‘IPU — Patience and a steady putter helped Kekaha’s Eric Horner win the U.S. Open local qualifier yesterday at the Po‘ipu Bay Golf Course.
“I’ve tried four times in (Las) Vegas. It’s my time. It’s just an awesome feeling and I’m still shaking in my shoes,” Horner said.
The Kaua‘i High School graduate shot a 2-over-par 74 to advance to sectional qualifying for the 2006 U.S. Open championship.
The 30-year-old avid golfer battled Lihu‘e’s Ron Castillo Jr. in a playoff hole (18th), where Horner drilled a birdie putt for the victory.
“I’ve never played against him. He’s a great golfer. This is the most exciting thing that’s happened to me in golf,” Horner said.
On the playoff hole, both players reached the green in regulation. Castillo putted first from 16 feet, just missing the birdie bid.
Horner then putted from 15 feet and curled in his birdie putt.
“I actually hoped he would’ve made his putt. It’s just a great feeling to finish off like that,” Horner said.
And he has one request for his boss at Kaua‘i Lagoons.
“Hopefully he’ll give me some time off at work to practice for the sectional qualifier,” Horner said with a big grin.
With the blustering wind getting in the way of the field, Horner emerged with his steady putter, which helped him out during the entire round.
“My putting was great. I didn’t put many greens in regulation, but my short game was steady,” Horner said.
From early yesterday morning, Horner knew something special was about to happen.
“I thought I had the game for it. I felt extremely comfortable out there and I kept loose,” Horner said.
Castillo becomes the first alternate and Lihu‘e’s Jonathan Ota (75) fills in the second alternate’s spot.
Kaua‘i Golf Academy’s (Wailua Golf Course) Glenn Tamagawa, who shot an 80, said he should’ve done better, but he has good reason for not flourishing at the event.
“My girlfriend was down here from the mainland, so I didn’t have a lot of time to practice. Plus she loves to shop, so I had to be there for support,” Tamagawa said with a smile.
The annual event allows participants to bring along a caddie. Tamagawa utilized Jules Canon to tend to his bag.
Last year’s event hosted 25 individuals and this year, tournament official Sam Pratt said 21 competitors came out to vie for the coveted spot at sectionals.
“I think it was good. It went well. Because of the wind, the course played tougher than we wanted to,” Pratt said.
The local qualifier was for golfers who owned a 1.4 or lower handicap index.
No Wie, no problem
Honolulu’s Michelle Wie was a no-show at the local qualifier yesterday, but that was no surprise to tournament officials.
“She selected for her sectional to compete in Summit, New Jersey. She’s probably playing in that area already and that sectional has more spots available,” Pratt said.
Sectional qualifying over 36 holes will be held at the Po‘ipu Bay Golf Course on Monday, June 5, as well as 11 other sites on June 5-6.
The championship will be played from June 15-18 at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, N.J.
The U.S. Open is one of 13 national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association.
Lihu‘e’s Ueoka advances in women’s sectionals
Kaua‘i High School golfer Miki Ueoka shared medalist honors with Punahou’s Stephanie Kono at the U.S. Women’s Open local qualifier at the Ko Olina Golf Club on Thursday. The two prepsters finished up a windy day with a 2-over-par 74 and will be battling at the 36-hole sectional qualifier on June 13 at Ko Olina.
The medalist will earn a spot in the U.S. Women’s Open, which runs from June 29-July 2.
U.S. Open Local Qualifier
Po‘ipu Bay G.C., May 19
1) Eric Horner, Kekaha, *74
2) Ron Castillo Jr., Lihu‘e, 74, 1st alt.
3) Jonathan Ota, Lihu‘e, 75, 2nd alt.
4) Chad Dusenberry, Waimea, 77
t-5) Matthew Pakkala, Honolulu, 79
t-5) Kellen Watabu, Kapa‘a, 79
t-5) Rad Sam Fong, Kapa‘a, 79
t-8) Tom Freestone, Anchorage, 80
t-8) Glenn Tamagawa, Kapa‘a, 80
t-10) Mike Castillo, Princeville, 81
t-10) Paul Ito, Lihu‘e, 81
t-12) Layne Morita, Kapa‘a, 84
t-12) Steve Murphy, Koloa, 84
t-14) Peter Sirois, Koloa, 86
t-14) Jimmy Kawaihalau, Lihu‘e, 86
t-14) Craig Sasada, Koloa, 86
17) Kaina McCallum, ‘Ele‘ele, 87
18) Kurt Bacio, Waimea, 91
19) Lucas Julian, Lawa‘i, 95
t-20) Matthew Torry, Po‘ipu, WD
t-20) Sean Ogawa, Kaua‘i, WD
*Won on first playoff hole
• Duane Shimogawa Jr., sports editor, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 257) or firstname.lastname@example.org.