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The Honolulu Advertiser

By Bill Kwon

Posted on: Thursday, February 11, 2010

Turtle Bay setting stage for local pros

 • Holes in One
 • Pro tour players from Hawaii
 • PGA Tour FedEx Cup Leaders
 • Chan, Oride compete in Mainland tourneys
 • Hawaii Pearl Open still the gem locally

The reaction to the news that Hawai'i will host a PGA Qualifying School first-stage tournament for the first time at the Turtle Bay Resort this year ranged from near disbelief to shouts of "awesome" and "cool" from pros playing in the 32nd Hawai'i Pearl Open.

"For real?" said Ryan Perez, former University of Hawai'i golfer and 2004 Mānoa Cup champion who'll be making his professional debut in local golf's first major of the year starting tomorrow at the Pearl Country Club.

"Oh, wow, I did not know that," said Travis Toyama, another UH alum and two-time Mānoa Cup champion, who figures it will be a good incentive for his first Q-School attempt after turning pro within the past year.

"Are they really?" replied former UH-Hilo golfer Nick Mason. "That's pretty cool for Hawai'i. I know we lost our U.S. Open thing (qualifier) over here. To get a first stage here is really cool."

Mason resides in Scottsdale, Ariz., but came back to play the Pearl Open and defend his title in the Hilo Invitational next week. "I would 90 percent go to Turtle Bay. I love that golf course."

"That's big, very big," added Casey Watabu, the 2006 U.S. Men's Amateur Public Links champion. "It's good news for Hawai'i golfers, good for the state and the resort." What makes it even better news for Watabu is that he just decided to call Hawai'i home again after living in Los Angeles following his graduation from the University of Nevada.

Maui's Sam Cyr, two-time NAIA individual champion at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, who's playing the Pearl Open for the first time, thought it was awesome.

"It's good for Hawai'i and Turtle Bay, and a good thing for golf in Hawai'i, too. Good for the local players that want to compete in Q-School."

Even J.T. Hamamoto, who's back home in Chandler, Ariz., welcomed the news. "Being from Hawai'i, it's great for Hawai'i golfers. It's a course they know and they don't have to pay for travel to get to the first stage. That's a good thing. It'll help more Hawai'i players get out there," said Hamamoto, also a former UH golfer and two-time boys' state individual champion from Waiākea High School in Hilo.

Familiarity with Turtle Bay's Palmer Course, which will be the site of the pre-qualifier and first stage of the PGA Q-School, is the main reason Perez says he's motivated to make the course his first choice for his first Q-School test.

"If I get through pre-qualifying, I'll definitely be playing the first stage there and be pretty comfortable because I've played there so much. I'll feel like I'm going to have somewhat of an advantage."

Cyr said Turtle Bay will be among his top two choices as his first-stage site. The other is Carlton Oaks Country Club near San Diego, where he resides, and where he passed last year's first-stage qualifying. "I'd do either or. They're my first two choices, that's for sure," he said.

For a change, traveling to the Hawai'i qualifying will be costlier for Hamamoto, who made it to the Q-School's final stage last year by driving to the first two qualifying stages. "Actually, I'll probably try and do the same as last year, but it's difficult because you pick where you want to go but you don't always get it," said Hamamoto, who wound up playing the first stage at his fifth choice of sites. But it all worked out. Hamamoto got a conditional status to play in some Nationwide Tour events by making the final stage.

As for Pearl Open defending champion Jesse Mueller, coming from Arizona to play the Q-School's first stage at the Palmer Course might be tempting. After all, he shot 38-under-par in winning twice in Hawai'i last year, including the Hawai'i State Open at Turtle Bay. But he thinks he'll play at Carlton Oaks again. "I've gone to the first stage there a couple of years and have done well. So I'll probably stay there."

But Turtle Bay will be THE place for local golf in October (26 to 29). "I've talked to a lot of people and they're excited," said Matt Hall, Turtle Bay's director of golf.

Plans call for the 72-hole pre-qualifier to be played in mid-September with the field limited to 78 players for each of the two events, Hall said. Entry fee is $2,500 for each qualifier with no cost the rest of the way for those passing the first stage.

Bill Kwon can be reached at billkwonrhs@aol.com.