A feel good APL winner

BREMERTON, WASH.—At the risk of sounding like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth (see blog entry about how collegians are ruining the APL), Casey Watabu is a pretty fitting winner of the 81st U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship. Living five minutes from Wailea GC, a very junior friend public course on the island of Kauai, the 21-year-old used to spend any number of summer afternoons whileing away the hours thinking about a moment like the one he had Saturday afternoon, when he defeated Anthony Kim 4 and 3 in the 36-hole final at Gold Mountain’s Olympic Course and earned himself an invitation to the Masters come next Monday.

After the end of the tournament, I tracked down Mary Bea Porter-King on her cell phone to ask her about Watabu. Fittingly the former USGA executive committee woman and grand dame of junior golf in Hawaii, knew Watabu well as her own son was in the same grade as Casey and played together. Porter-King also helped launch the program that got Watabu hooked on the game at age 7.

“I already have spoken to him and I couldn’t be more proud,” Porter-King said Saturday evening. “He was just always a really happy guy. He’s always had a great attitude.”

While you constantly here of solid junior golfers coming out of Hawaii these days (Michelle Wie only the most famous name), this is a testament to the work Porter-King put in to building the junior programs in the Aloha State and giving kids the opportunities to develop their games and he in shape to play alongside kids from the mainland.

It’s a credit too, to courses that support junior golf. Victor Watabu, Casey’s father who flew in on a red-eye to see the final match, recalled that when Casey was making the decision whether to focus on baseball and golf as a pre-teem, it was much easier given that juniors could play Wailea for free. Victor says that now the cost is still minimal—50 cents for nine holes, $1 for 18.

Casey, meanwhile, recalled traveling to Georgia with his fellow Hawaii juniors to play in a competition against junior golfers from Atlanta, a friendly Ryder Cup style match held at Peachtree CC. Now he’ll no doubt be returning for a few reconoscence visits to Augusta National before teeing it up in 2007’s first major.

One other person who deserves credit for Watabu’s surprise victory last week: teammate and caddie John Cassidy. The 24-year-old lives in Yelm, Wash., and roomed with Watabu during the week as he too played in the championship. Having played the course numerous times, he imparted lots of advice beforehand and then did the same after losing his second-round match when he carried Watabu’s bag the rest of the tournament. Might not seem like much, but considering the cold Watabu just couldn’t seem to shake all week, Cassidy was likely the best medicine.