Teen golfer talks future, LPGA

Kaua‘i High School senior golfer Miki Ueoka is not always about her game.

“I’m pretty into school,” she said. “I want to study biology and go to med school.”

Still, golf is a big part of her life.

“It’s a pretty big deal for me,” she said. “It’s taken me all over the country to play in tournaments.”

In her best round of golf, she shot a 68. She’s done it three times — once at the Wailua Golf Course, the Kiahuna Golf Course and at Turtle Bay on O‘ahu.

Ueoka, 18, started playing golf when she was 7 years old. Her parents, Richard and Linda also golf.

“They golfed, but my mom stopped playing when I started,” Ueoka joked.

Since then, she’s been a three-time Kaua‘i Interscholastic Federation champion, a two-time Kaua‘i Junior Golf Association Girls Player of the Year honoree and was last year’s Hawai‘i State Junior Golf Association Girls Player of the Year.

She’s played in two Grand Slam of Golf’s Pro-Am tourneys, one where she was on a team with Tiger Woods. She also played with Hawai‘i’s Dean Wilson at the Sony Open’s Pro-Junior.

This summer, she will represent Hawai‘i in the Callaway Junior World, the U.S. Girls Junior PGA Westfield and in the U.S. Junior Girls’ America’s Cup.

In her freshman year at Kaua‘i High, the golf team finished at the top at the state championships, held at the Wailua Golf Course. Individually, she finished seventh.

“That was a really great one because I birdied the last three holes coming in,” she said. “It was really cool to actually be one of the contributors to the team. Winning (the championship) was just an added bonus. Especially with everyone backing you up with home course advantage.”

The next year, she added track and field to her resume. Although she credited it as a good experience, it may have affected her golf game at states when she finished outside of the top 20.

“That year, I wanted to try something different because you can do it once,” she said.

“I wouldn’t blame (my performance at states) on track because it was super fun. I just wasn’t prepared, but it was a big learning experience.”

She took that experience to last year’s state championship when she finished third.

This fall, she will enter Santa Clara University, where she received a full scholarship.

“It was a great environment and I thought good transition for because it wasn’t a big place,” she said. “I didn’t want it to be the same place and I felt really comfortable.”

Ueoka also looked at the golf program at California State University, Long Beach.

Kaua‘i High’s golf coach Ipo Yoshioka said choosing Santa Clara was a good decision for Ueoka.

“It’s good for her to be where she’s comfortable with the school and the team,” Yoshioka said. “She’s a hard-working golfer and she always helps with the other kids. That’s what I feel makes her an all-around golfer.”

Santa Clara’s head coach Polly Schulze said in a release, Ueoka was one of the strongest recruits to date.

“We are extremely excited about the signing of Miki and Katie,” Schulze said in a release about Ueoka and golfer Katie Sharpe from Washington.

“I watched both Miki and Katie compete at Junior Worlds in San Diego against the best juniors in the world and I know they possess the ability and drive to succeed at the collegiate level.”

Ueoka credits a lot of her success to being a part of the KJGA and HSGA.

“Without them, I wouldn’t have a scholarship to Santa Clara,” she said. “Because of them, we’re able to qualify for tournaments. Being away from home over the summer for six weeks is fun. I’m so blessed to have these opportunities.”

In this past weekend’s KIF opener at Po‘ipu Bay, Ueoka shot a 77. Saturday, golf will be at the Mokihana course. Ueoka hopes to continue to lower her average.

At this point, Ueoka is enjoying her success and not obsessing over a career in the world of professional golf. Although, competing in the LPGA would be nice.

“Everybody kind of dreams of going pro,” she said. “We’ll see what happens. I don’t have any set plans for right now.”

Ueoka sounds off on:

Childhood friend and fellow teen golfer Kimberly Kim: “I kind of grew up with her, even though we grew up on different islands. I’m so happy for her. She’s an amazing player.”

Michelle Wie in the PGA: “She takes a lot of criticism and it’s hard to be under the spotlight. If she can do it, why wouldn’t she?”

Kapa‘a’s Casey Watabu: “He won the Public Links and he’s going to the Masters. That’s huge. There’s not a lot of people who can say they did that.”

The Grand Slam of Golf leaving Kaua‘i: “It’s really sad it’s leaving. It’s kind of a big loss. Growing up, for me, it was such a great experience, even just holding up signs and passing out programs. These are the world’s best players. How many people can say, ‘I met Tiger Woods’ or ‘I shook hands with VJ.’”

Her favorite golf course: “I don’t really have one here. The courses here are all different.”

• Lanaly Cabalo, sports editor, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 237) or lcabalo@kauaipubco.com.

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