A month into his new chapter, Kolbe Irei has been outmuscling the competition.
The Roosevelt graduate, now at UC Irvine, finished tied for second place in the GCAA Amateur Series in Beaumont, Calif., a tournament that drew the best college golfers in the country. He finished at 9-under par, two strokes behind Cameron Henry. Irei led going into the final round.
“I’m playing five, 10 times better than I was in OIA season. I’m doing a lot more prep,” Irei said on Tuesday from the gym in his hotel. “I just finished my workout. I have practice after this. I’ve been working out really hard. With all my clubs, I’ve gained about 15 yards (since spring season).”
It has been a unique fall. The NCAA postponed golf until early 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Irei has stayed busy, however.
He also tied for second at the CGF SoCal Amateur in Murrieta, Calif., last week. He was three-under, losing by one stroke to Kento Yamawaki.
Irei was 27th in a field of 180 at the Inland Empire Amateur in between his runner-up finishes. All in all, not too shabby for a true freshman who graduated just three months ago.
“I shot even, but I didn’t place that well. Even’s not bad, but I wasn’t mad about how I played. I wasn’t happy, either,” he said.
2020 has been quite the strange, yet successful year for the southpaw. He won the first three tournaments of the OIA season before all spring sports were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Golf courses were open, then closed, then re-opened. In the meantime, Irei hit the iron off the course. Since graduation, he has added eight pounds of muscle to his frame and is now at 140. Regular workouts in the gym at his hotel — he checks into the apartments at UC Irvine this week — have helped.
“It’s a small gym. Nobody comes in here, so it’s pretty good,” said Irei, who practices at Oak Creek Golf Course.
He landed in Los Angeles on Aug. 24. It happened to be 8/24, the jersey numbers of his all-time favorite athlete, Kobe Bryant.
“We booked the cheaper flight, and it happened to be on that day. I visited all the Kobe murals right by LAX,” Irei said.
At the recent Golden State tourney, more signs of the Black Mamba.
“There were three people in my group. I had cart No. 8 and the other two guys had No. 24,” he said.
Going back to the Hawaii State Amateurs in March, three of Irei’s last four tournaments have resulted in runner-up finishes.
“I’m trying to break that streak,” he said, noting that life in a hotel has been productive. “I’m just going to a store, Albertson’s, just picking up food. There’s a kitchen in this hotel. I kind of learned how to cook rice in a pot. I eyeball it.”
Another pleasant new addition to life: two new clubs.
“I added a Taylor Made (Sim) and a Taylor Made 3-wood,” he said. “I had a bunch of gift certificates for Roger Dunn Golf Shop.”
Down the road, there will be a shift in time management.
“I think that’ll be it for now. I’ll focus on school,” Irei said.
Irei graduated with a 3.74 grade-point average. He plans to major in business economics at UCI.
“My goal is to become a pro golfer, but if that doesn’t work out, something to do with business in golf. I want to continue in golf for as long as I can,” he said.
Irei, once called a ‘miracle baby’ by his doctor for overcoming major health challenges, is grateful for his new chapter.
“I’d like to thank all of my coaches in the past from when I first started to where I am now. My high school coach, Joey (Itagaki), helped me a lot to get to where I am,” he said. “Once I came here, even though we don’t have a normal season, I’ve been playing a lot with my teammates. Playing up here urged me to work harder in the gym and on the golf course. That’s why I got the results I wanted.”