14 golfers from 808 state making rounds at Kapalua

KAPALUA – The gathering, 14 smiling college golfers sporting shakas, was impressive.

Last year, the number was 11.

On Tuesday, after the second round of the second Anuenue Spring Break Classic women’s tournament at the Kapalua Bay Course, friends, family, teammates and coaches crowded onto the putting green to get photos of the 50th state’s contingent in the field.

Three wore University of Hawaii green, five sported UH-Hilo red, two play for Pepperdine, while Washington, Tulsa, Portland State and Oregon all had one.

“We have all these players,” said Oregon’s Cassy Isagawa, a former state champion for Baldwin High School and PGA Junior National winner. “Just having everyone in that class, it pushes us to compete with everyone. The courses here – obviously there’s a ton of low scores out here – but the fact that when it’s windy, the wind definitely comes into play. There’s grain on these greens that’s not really common on the Mainland, so that definitely helped us become better players as we grew up here.”

The leader of the event through two rounds is Denver’s Tonje Daffinrud, who hails from Norway.

“Well obviously you have great course, good weather, you can play year-round,” Daffinrud said. “That’s not something I can say coming from Norway or Denver. It seems like a good environment for golf here. It’s a big sport.”

Isagawa remembers former four-time Maui Interscholastic League champion Elyse Okada, the Maui High graduate who played in this event last year as a senior for Oregon State.

“I grew up with Elyse, playing with her my freshman year,” Isagawa said. “Just having great golfers on Maui was awesome.”

Isagawa leads the Maui foursome here this week – UH-Hilo’s Dayna Bersamin went to Baldwin, Shannon Abarra went to Kamehameha Maui, and Hawaii’s Liana Otake attended Maui High.

“I remember (current Baldwin player) Marissa Uradomo said in the newspaper, ‘I look up to Cassy,’ ” Isagawa said. “It’s like someone to push her, her game to get better. For me, it was looking up to Elyse, looking up to Dayna. I got push myself, got to play with them and compete with them.”

Tulsa’s Kristina Merkle won the second of her back-to-back state titles for Moanalua at the Royal Kaanapali Course in 2009. She was named Conference USA golfer of the week on March 13 after winning at the Clover Cup.

“We are a small state, but we have a lot of talent,” Merkle said. “We have got a lot of show and we are coming, we are coming for everybody. I think it’s our time.”

Bersamin, a senior, is redshirting for the Vulcans while recovering from shoulder surgery last year.

“I think it all started with junior golf, having such a strong program here in Hawaii,” Bersamin said. “With everyone supporting each other, I think just the strong support itself, through that over the years we just developed more confidence.

“It’s good to see people that I used to play with when I was 10 years old out here.”

University of Hawaii coach Lori Castillo is a former Maui resident who won the U.S. Girls Junior Championship in 1978, and the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links in 1979 and 1980.

“We have a lot of really good players in the state, all islands,” Castillo said. “I love to recruit locally because the girls are used to the island way, they are used to the beach being there. It’s not a big deal, it’s not like they tend to be a tourist their first year.”

* Robert Collias is at