The field was much smaller for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links championship qualifier on Kauai, but no less challenging and entertaining for Nani Yanagi, who always finds a way to make the best out of everything.
Yanagi, a 2012 Waiakea graduate and Washington State junior-to-be, fired a par 73 at the 18-hole sectional qualifier on Monday at Wailua Golf Course to claim the lone spot to the final WAPL, to be held July 14 to 19 at The Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame, Ind.
She was four strokes better than same-group competitor and old friend Taylor Viquelia, who’s golfing at Southern Utah.
Viquelia was the first alternate with a 77, and the rest of the six-member field included Maryann Shintani, 84; Sharron Webber, 86; Naea Oda, 89; and Hiilani Alana, 89.
It’s the third and last time Yanagi has qualified for the national WAPL. The United States Golfing Association will retire the APL and WAPL after the 2014 season.
“I was well-prepared and really wanted this qualifier really badly since it’s going to be the last one,” Yanagi said. “The field was quite small and at first I thought it would be a lot easier compared to Oahu, where there’s many girls. Last year, there were six spots, so my goal was to make the top six. It was a kind-of-relax type of deal. This was a lot different, but in a good way.
“There were a lot less women and only one spot, which made it harder and more pressure. I didn’t want to underestimate anyone, but Taylor was my main competition, and it really felt like match play.”
On the par-4 10th hole, Yanagi thought she could get a little separation from Viquelia with a one-two shot combination that put her in position for a 15-foot putt for eagle. Yanagi missed and tapped in for birdie.
Viquelia countered with a 25-foot putt off the green for a matching birdie. Yanagi’s old friend wasn’t going away, at least not easily. Yanagi welcomed the challenge.
“She was not giving in and that made the game actually fun,” Yanagi said. “But it was a grind all the way through.”
Yanagi finally pulled away on the par-5 15th hole, when two chip shots — one bad, one good — produced another birdie, and the momentum to pull away from Viquelia, who earned All-Sky second team honors as a freshman this past season, and finished with a 77.5 stroke average.
On Yanagi’s third shot, 30 yards from the green, she duffed it, and the ball crawled 10 yards. Her next chip was good for a 20-yard birdie. Two chips were just as effective as the traditional chip-and-putt routine.
“I didn’t play well the last two times at the national publinx, and I really want to train hard and make the cut,” Yanagi said. “It’s such a great tourney and they treat you so well. The competition is incredible. Last year, (2013 Waiakea graduate and upcoming Gonzaga sophomore Ciera Min) beat the No. 1 player. Good stuff can happen. It’s a bummer it’s the last one, but hopefully I can make the best out of it.”
Last month, Yanagi, an elementary education major with a 3.5 grade point average, received honorable mention to the Pac-12 All-Academic golf team.
She worked just as hard at golf, especially during her free time.
“I played a little in the fall, and I struggled with my swing, but I continued training hard and put in a lot of extra work on the side,” she said. “I needed a stronger core. I took time out on my own to work out, see a physical therapist for help, and all that stuff eventually kicked into gear.
“I played in the University of Hawaii tournament at Kaneohe (in March), and played in every single match since and all the way up to the Pac-12 Championships. I had a 77 scoring average and … I want that to be a little lower. That’s my goal for next year.”
At the Pac-12 Championships in April, Washington State placed 10th and Yanagi finished tied for 39th with a 13-over 76-76-77-229 total at Corvallis, Ore.