KIF takes on the state field

Kaua‘i’s Kelli Oride, Kapa‘a’s Gabby Saiki prepare for state championships

By Lanaly Cabalo – The Garden Island

Two girls will be taking on the course today, with two separate goals. One is a junior who has played in two state championships before. The other is the a freshman and reigning Kaua‘i Interscholastic Federation champion.

Just 10 days after battling it out in the KIF championship, Kapa‘a High School’s Gabby Saiki and Kaua‘i High School’s Kelli Oride will return to the Wailua Golf Course to compete against the top golfers in the state for the David S. Ishii Foundation/Hawai‘i High School Athletic Association Girls Golf Championships.

Oride and Saiki finished No. 1 and 2 at the KIF championships and are the league’s best female golfers going into the championships.

“I just want to shoot in the mid 70s to 75,” Saiki said. “At least a 76 or better because it’s my home course.”

Saiki shot a two-round, combined score of 163 (87, 76) at Wailua for the KIF championships. The best she’s ever shot at that course was a 72 several weeks ago. At last year’s state championships, Saiki was the KIF’s highest-place finisher with 86-97 for 183 at the Waikoloa’s Kings Course on the Big Island.

She said that throughout her competitive years, she’s definitely seen an improvement with her approach shots.

“I’ve focused more on my second shots to try hitting the green in two shots so I can get up there without having to worry about a bogey,” she said.

Saiki said her driving has been the stroke that’s been solid for her and its also the shot she’s most confident in.

“At best, I hit 220, depending on the downwinds, but between 215 and 230,” she said.

Saiki’s goal of shooting in the 70s may be moderate compared to Oride’s. Oride is a top-notch junior golfer who travels the country playing in golf tournaments and competing in upper divisions against other girls older than her.

This will be her first prep competition with Kaua‘i High School, but that doesn’t seem to phase her at all.

“I hope to win the state championships,” she said.

She’s already proven herself to be a tough competitor in this circuit and also has the home-course advantage.

“I think having states at Wailua would be to our advantage because we know the course so well and we understand what we have to do and how we need to hit the ball on each of the holes,” she said.

The best she’s shot at Wailua was even-par 73 and has never shot under. But she, like Saiki, is comfortable with her drive and has been working on her short game.

“I like hitting my short irons. It’s easy for me to get to the hole with those,” she said.

Kapa‘a head coach Fred Levinthol said Oride and Saiki, along with the other Kaua‘i girls in the championships — Rae-Lyn Morikawa, Malisa Kagawa and Kristi Rapozo — have been the most competitive golfers he’s ever seen in the KIF.

“The other day I was watching these girls and it was like watching the LPGA,” he said at the KIF championships. “They were hitting the greens, nailing the pins. They were hitting everything.”

But standing in the way of these girls’ championship title is the team from Punahou School and its defending champion Anna Jang.

They were on-island and shooting practice rounds at the same time the KIF championship final round commenced.

The upside, though, is that both Oride and Saiki are underclassmen and should return next year.

“There are so many good golfers and all of them are my friends. I’ve played with all of them in junior golf. I have some great competition out there in Kristina Merkle and Anna Jang,” Oride said. “I’ve practiced with them all and have played with them in other tournaments.”

Merkle, the junior out of Moanalua High School, finished second at states her freshman year and Jang, the Punahou junior won her first championship last year.

Saiki tees off at 8:20 a.m. today on the 10th hole and Oride tees off at 8:56 a.m. also on the 10th hole.

The tournament starts tomorrow. The boys championships will be next week, Tuesday and Wednesday, and will feature Kaua‘i’s Cory Oride and two-time HHSAA runner-up T.J. Kua of Kamehameha Schools Kapalama.

Kelli Oride

Age: 14

Hometown: Lihu‘e

School: Kaua‘i High School

Started playing: 6 years old, competively 7

Best score at Wailua: 73

Member: Hawai‘i State Junior Golf, International Junior Golf Tour, Southern California PGA

Favorite golfer: none

Gabby Saiki

Age: 16

Hometown: Wailua Houselots

School: Kapa‘a High School

Started playing: 11 or 12 years old

Best score at Wailua: 72

Member: Kaua‘i Junior Golf Association

Favorite golfer: Phil Mickelson

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

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