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Hawaiian golfers on the rise

Hawaii is celebrating one golf feat after another these days, from the youngest player in 50 years to make the cut on the PGA Tour (Tadd Fujikawa) to the youngest U.S. Women's Amateur champion (Kimberly Kim) to Dean Wilson becoming the first player from Hawaii to win on the PGA Tour in 16 years.

But it's not easy for most of them to reach the big time, and Wilson offered an excellent illustration.

A public course kid from Kaneohe on the north end of Oahu, he could only afford one trip to the mainland to play in the Junior Worlds at Torrey Pines. That kept him from getting noticed by colleges, and he didn't have a single scholarship offer when he left high school. Wilson wound up going to BYU-Hawaii with hopes of getting into a Division I school.

He transferred to the main campus of BYU -- former Masters champion Mike Weir was on that team -- but had to walk on and still had a tough time getting into the lineup over the scholarship players. Whenever he complained, the coach put him in his place with a line they both laugh about to this day.

"He told me, 'You're a dime a dozen. For all I care, you can paddle your canoe back to wherever you came from,"' Wilson recalled.

Wilson now lives in Las Vegas, but he keeps in touch with Hawaii golf through a Web site, www.808golf.com, and he wants to start a foundation for Hawaii juniors that would help with their travel to the mainland.

"You don't have to be from a country club. You don't have to have all the extra privileges," he said. "Not that my life was hard, but I was just a basic junior golfer that wanted to play on tour and worked toward it and got there. Hopefully, that's what those guys, when they look at me, they realize nothing is that extraordinary about my game."

January 17, 2007

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