One stroke was all that separated Kasier’s Malia Nam and Kalani’s Miki Manta at last year’s OIA girls’ golf championships.
Nam was gunning for OIA title No. 2 at the time, having won the previous year as a freshman. Instead, Manta pulled ahead for a 5-over 149 over two days to come out on top. And thus, another chapter in the rivalry between two of the top juniors in the state was closed.
Although Nam considers Manta to be a friend, she hopes things will end up differently when this year’s installment returns to Turtle Bay on Monday and Tuesday. Teams will be competing on the same Fazio course as last year, and Nam in particular hopes she can use that experience to propel her.
“I wasn’t very happy with the way I played last year. Miki totally deserved to win, she played great,” Nam said. “But this year, I really want it all to come together and not have parts of my game that are lacking and try to scramble to save it. Winning the team title, I really want that to happen again. Individually, I definitely don’t like losing, so I don’t want to feel that loss again.”
As Nam mentioned, the Cougars are the two-time defending OIA champions, and she hopes to make it three this year. A state title is also on her to-do list after a sixth-place finish in 2015 and a fourth-place finish last year.
To Kaiser girls’ head coach Wade Nakamura, his team wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for Nam. Literally.
Three members are required in order to compete in team events for the OIA. Before Nam came along, Nakamura could barely get one player to sign up.
“It wasn’t until Malia came that we could actually field a team. Not only that, but she’s just a phenom. She pretty much put Kaiser on the map as far as girls’ golf goes,” Nakamura said. “When she came her freshman year, we won the OIA team title and the next year, we won it again. This year, we were hoping to get it a third time and maybe even a fourth time next year when she’s a senior.”
Nam’s success on the course transcends the high school level. In March, she was invited to compete for a spot in the ANA Inspiration at Mission Hills Country Club in Calif., the LPGA’s first major of the year. Although she didn’t qualify, she says that at the time it was “amazing to think that I’m playing in the same golf course as the pros are and on the same stage.”
However, she didn’t leave empty handed. She was selected to compete in the inaugural ANA Junior Inspiration and held her own, finishing in a tie for 22nd among 40 of the world’s best junior female golfers.
Committing to a college as an underclassman is a rarity for prep athletes, but Nam attributes a lot of her success to pledging to Southern California for a full-ride scholarship as a freshman.
“When I committed, it just took so much pressure off,” said Nam, who plans to study business. “I didn’t have to scramble to find a college. I’m glad it’s over.”
Added Nakamura: “Not only is she talented, but she works really, really hard … You become a really hard player to beat when you have both of those things, and she has them. As far as her attitude after she got the offer, it seems like she’s more relaxed and I think she’s playing better because of that.”
Nam chose the Trojans because of her affinity for warm weather, the proximity to home and the allure of going to a private school for free.
Although Nam chose USC over UCLA, Nakamura’s alma mater, he’s been entirely supportive of the decision, with just one exception.
“Every time she comes to school with a USC shirt on, I tell her ‘you can’t be in here with that shirt, change it right now,’” Nakamura said with a hearty laugh.
The 2017 OIA golf championships tee off Monday for the first round with the final round on Tuesday at Turtle Bay.