Hawaii-Hilo wins Golfweek Invitational title
SUNRIVER, Ore. – Four Hawaii-Hilo players dropped to their stomachs to the side of Crosswater’s 18th green as junior Corey Kozuma surveyed a 35-footer for birdie Tuesday afternoon. Head coach Earl Tamiya paced the green near him. He had kicked off his shoes for this moment.
The Vulcans came to their knees, shouting “Go in!” as Kozuma slid his birdie try just past the hole. Opponents Lee Gearhart of Chico State and Rob Damschen of California State Stanislaus dropped long par putts in an attempt to catch Kozuma and his team, but it wasn't quite enough.
Hawaii-Hilo had barely separated from a pack of five teams within two shots atop the Golfweek Division II Fall Invitational leaderboard. The Vulcans’ 12-over 867 total left them with the team title.
“It was exciting,” said Tamiya, a veteran coach at Hawaii-Hilo. “We haven’t been in a close tournament like this in awhile.”
Hawaii-Hilo entered the final round trailing CSU Stanislaus by three shots. The Warriors led for much of the morning before Western Washington overtook them. The leaderboard began to shift after the leaders made the turn. Western Washington had to count four bogeys and two doubles in the final three holes, which dropped the team out of the lead and into an eventual share of third. Stanislaus came up one shot short of Hawaii-Hilo.
“It was a good learning experience for these guys,” Stanislaus head coach John Cook said. “It was good for us to play ourselves into contention yesterday.”
Kozuma led the charge for Hawaii-Hilo, posting a final-round 67 that was four shots better than any other player on Tuesday. The junior captain finished third on the individual leaderboard with a 5-under 211 total.
“He wants to win,” Tamiya said of his team captain. "He tries to win, and he practices hard."
The Vulcans also counted strong scores from underclassmen. Freshman Kyeton Little was part of a three-way tie for 18th with sophomores James Hall and Dalen Yamauchi. Hawaii-Hilo’s victory at the Golfweek Division II Fall Invitational signals a new guard for Tamiya. He lost two players to Division I programs (Blake Snyder to Washington State, Travis Russell to UC Irvine) at the end of last year. The rest of the roster swooped in to pick up.
“As a team, we pretty much live together," Kozuma said. "We do everything together.”
Hawaii-Hilo has been on the road together since the Sept. 24-25 Western Washington Invitational at Bellingham (Wash.) Country Club. The Vulcans finished third there, then played The Home Course in nearby Dupont on their way to Oregon. Tamiya last brought a team to Crosswater for the 2003 NCAA Division II Championship.
“The grass is definitely different here,” Kozuma said. “Everyone adjusted well. Having five guys, we can all put feedback in together.”
Perhaps the player who made the best adjustment, however, was Michael Lee, a junior at Colorado School of Mines. After opening with rounds of 68-65 on Monday, Lee returned a steady 72 on Tuesday. His 11-under 207 total left him five shots ahead of Grand Canyon’s Alec Dalhquist for medalist honor. It was the first title of his career.
Only four players in the field finished under par for 54 holes.
“I hit it about the same,” Lee said. “I just didn’t make as many putts.”
Lee and his teammates scrambled out of Sunriver at the end of the day so they could make it back to class on Wednesday. Lee, a petroleum engineering major, has eight hours of lecture and lab waiting for him back in Golden, Colo.
At least there will be the memory of Crosswater.