Ogura, Ishika win titles at Woodland's AJGA event
LAWRENCE, Kan. – When Hirawari Ogura hops a plane on Friday for a 15-hour flight back to Japan, she’ll have a little extra baggage. Ogura claimed a handful of souvenirs during a week in Kansas – good ones, too.
Ogura completed a wire-to-wire victory Thursday at the AJGA’s Under Armour/Gary Woodland Championship. For shooting the lowest final-round score in the girls division – a 3-under 69 at Alvamar Country Club’s Championship Course – Ogura received a custom-designed Scotty Cameron putter cover. In Ogura’s mind, it was almost better than the tall glass trophy she received for winning the tournament outright.
Ogura had her eye on the putter cover from the beginning of the week, she told media through translator Hiroshimi Nishioka, a staff member at the Japan Junior Golf Association, grinning all the while. She also wanted to make sure she didn’t come in second, something that has happened too many times in Japan events this year. Ogura beamed post-round as she practiced a few lines in English to describe her feelings. Nishioka explained that she struggled to find the words even in Japanese.
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“I don’t speak English very well but I will do my best,” Ogura said to an assembled crowd after she accepted the trophy. Another phrase she continued to repeat?
I’ll be back.
Ogura was one of three Japanese players in the Under Armour/Woodland field who played in Lawrence on a special AJGA exemption. The AJGA periodically awards such exemptions to Japan Junior Golf Association players based on tournament performance and ranking. This was Ogura’s first AJGA appearance.
During Thursday’s final round, Ogura hit 17 greens and 12 fairways, but she didn’t know either of those stats at the end of the round. Ogura was the picture of steadiness throughout the day, and turned a one-shot, second-round lead into a four-shot victory. She finished 54 holes at 3-over 219, and was four shots ahead of runner-up Cynthia Diaz of Bucaramanga, Colombia.
Diaz struggled on the greens on her way to an even-par 72, second-best among the girls. It wasn’t enough to overtake Ogura.
“It was not an easy course,” Diaz said of Alvamar. “... I saved lots of pars by up-and-downs and sandy pars.”
In Ogura’s second trip stateside (she played an International Junior Golf Tour event a year ago), she developed a love for American hot dogs even though she stuck with traditional Chinese fare the night before the final round. Ogura also wasn’t able to make time to watch her friend Misuzu Narita play in the U.S. Women’s Open, which began Thursday. Not to worry – it will be waiting for her on DVR when she returns to Japan.
“I’m happy to win this tournament,” Ogura said over and over, her grin growing wider each time.
Koichiro Ishika, also of Japan, was equally successful on the boys side, and was aided greatly on Thursday by a well-timed weather delay.
The AJGA grouped players in foursomes and used a double-tee start in an attempt to move players through the course before a storm hit Lawrence. Ishika, in the final group off No. 1, had played only two holes when players were pulled in because of lightning, however.
Ishika had missed a 4-footer for birdie on the first hole, then lost a ball on the second hole on his way to a double bogey. It effectively erased his lead and put him in a chasing position, which made him more comfortable.
“He was a machine,” said runner-up Andrew Beckler. “He lost a ball on No. 2 and then after that, something changed.”
After the lightning cleared and players returned to the course, Ishika made four pars in a row. He bogeyed No. 7, then made four birdies over the closing holes to finish with a 2-under 70. At even-par 216, Ishika finished four shots ahead of Beckler, a native of nearby Topeka, Kan.
Beckler struggled to get things to go his way on Thursday, and will get some much-needed rest before his next AJGA start, the Lockton/Samsung Kansas City Junior, to be played the final week of July.
“I can take a lot of things away from the week,” Beckler said.
As for Ishika, a victory in his first AJGA start exceeded his expectations. Now, he moves on to the next goal. Ishika has his eye on a Japan Junior Championship victory.
The Under Armour/Woodland likely won’t be his final stateside event, however. As Ishika noted, playing golf in the U.S. gives him an excellent opportunity to practice his English – something that appears to give him great joy.