Golf: Final run for U.S. Amateur Public Links qualifier in Hilo


For local golfers, the U.S. Amateur Public Links championship qualifier is the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship rolled into one.

It’s the one and only major for area amateurs. In fact, it’s a little cousin of the Masters, an old-timer established in 1934.

The national Amateur Public Links champion receives an exemption from qualifying for the next two U.S. Amateurs, local qualifying for the next three U.S. Opens, provided amateur status, and a likely invitation to the Masters.

There’s no other tournament on the island that offers such carrots, but this is its final run.

Affectionately known as the publinx, the USGA will retire the 49-year-old APL, the tourney’s formal appellation, after the 2014 season. The women’s publinx or WAPL will also be retired.

Four-ball national tourneys will replace both because, in part, the USGA says the format is gaining in popularity.

The original intention of the publinx was to give exposure to public course players who otherwise might not have an opportunity to compete in a national championship.

“It’ll be very difficult to get in any kind of national championship next year for our guys,” said Lance Taketa, Hilo’s USGA publinx chief. “They’ll have to fly to Oahu to play in a U.S. Amateur or Mid-Amateur qualifier where the field is a lot deeper and there very few spots. There might be one or two to get into the U.S. Amateur because on the mainland the number of entries are really, really high.

“Our local Hilo USGA will close and also the national publinx. Everything will end this year. It means there won’t be any USGA sectional qualifiers in Hilo ever again, unless something strange happens. It’s a huge issue for our local golfers. It’s a big deal.”

Taketa tried pleading with the USGA executive committee, to no avail.

“Our guys are really sad to hear about the retirement of the APL,” he said. “You know how politics work. Once they make up their mind, that’s it. That’s why I’m trying to see it in a different light, work with the PGA instead of the USGA.”

The USGA handles rules of golf and championships for amateurs, and three tournaments for pros: U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Senior Open.

“I don’t think the executive committee of the USGA realizes the ramifications of the retirement of the APL,” Taketa said. “Public golf is the backbone of the game. When you take something like that away, what do the public golfers play for? You don’t have that much to play for as an amateur.

“It’s a huge issue for the PGA of America. We’ve got to step up. That’s why we’re running the PGA Junior Championships on Maui next week. We’re consistently looking for things to promote the game. What the USGA is doing is kind of killing the game.

“Nobody cares about four-ball. If they did, we’d see four-ball on the PGA Tour. It’s more of a fun thing, not a serious thing.”

The last APL national championship will be held July 14 to 19 at Sand Creek Station Golf Course in Newton, Kan.