Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the March 20, 2017 digital issue of Golfweek
John Oda can sneak up on you at any time. Just ask Shintaro Ban.
Ban got a Facebook message one day in 2012 from Oda. It was a detailed description of who he was, where he lived … all from a complete stranger.
“It was the funniest thing,” Ban said. “I was just like, ‘Who is this kid?’ ”
Five years later, Oda and Ban are juniors on a rising UNLV squad, which is ranked 16th in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings. Oda also finds himself ranked No. 16 in the nation, thanks to a breakout, two-win fall season.
Ban is close behind at No. 28. The pair have been roommates all three years at UNLV. When they were freshmen, Oda didn’t have a driver’s license, so Ban drove him everywhere. Teammates would ask just one of them to dinner. “They would choose one of us because it was like, ‘All right, we know both of them are coming,’ ” Ban said.
But Oda is making his own mark in college golf. The 20-year-old from Honolulu quietly has been a top-50 player his entire college career.
He’s done so under the radar, but make no mistake, he’ll be one to reckon with. Coach Dwaine Knight has been at the helm at UNLV for 30 years, coaching the likes of Adam Scott, Ryan Moore and Charley Hoffman. He sees something in Oda that was apparent in all those PGA Tour winners.
“These players all seem to have a little bit of patience when they’re struggling,” Knight said. “John has that.”
Oda also has Kevin Na on his side. A one-time PGA Tour winner, Na met Oda last year and has played with him several times since.
The pair played a practice round this year at the Sony Open. Oda got into the tournament through a Monday qualifier, and although he missed the cut, he felt at home among the pros.
“Comfort level is something very key,” Oda said. “When I played Sony, I was pretty comfortable out there because I had played with (Kevin) a bunch.”
Impressed with Oda’s game, Na has said he will help make sure the young Hawaiian gets financial backing when he turns pro. Well, actually, it’s even more than that.
“I’m sorry, Coach Knight,” Na said with a laugh. “I’ve been (trying to) convince him to turn pro for the past six months-plus.”
Oda, whose game relies on precision instead of overpowering distance, could leave for the paid ranks after his junior year, but he said turning pro will be a tough decision when the time comes.
It’s fitting that Oda sneaked up on the field in his win last October at the Jerry Pate National Intercollegiate.
Three back to start the final round at Old Overton Club in Vestavia Hills, Ala., Oda fired a 6-under 64 to nab the title by one. He closed in 30 and birdied his final two holes, draining a mid-range putt at the last.
“I’m telling everyone, ‘That’s his range, he’s not going to miss this,’ ” Ban said.
Perfect speed, dead center.
Oda can’t sneak up on Ban anymore. As for the rest, he’s just getting started.