The PGA of America – Aloha Section and Friends of Hawaii Charities invites you to join us as we honorHawaii’s golf champions. This premier gala event celebrates the champions of six of Hawaii’s major golf associations and the Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame which will honor professional Casey Nakama as their 70th member of the Hall of Fame.
Casey Nakama, a former high school basketball star who remade himself into one of the state’s dominant golfers and is now among its top teaching professionals, will be inducted into the Aloha Section PGA Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame at the 7th annual Hoolaulea Awards banquet.
Nakama is perhaps best known as Michelle Wie’s first golf instructor, but the 56-year-old professional also won a dozen Hawaii golf championships, including nine Open titles, and played the Asian Tour before starting a junior golf development school that has become one of the most highly regarded in the state.
“It’s a tremendous honor to be inducted into the Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame,” Nakama said. “I am very proud of what I’ve accomplished. Golf has been good to me, and I would like to thank the many people who helped me along the way.”
Nakama grew up in Kamehameha Heights and is a 1976 graduate of Moanalua High School, where he was the state long-jump champion and a first team OIA West All-Star guard in basketball. He didn’t take up golf until after high school, and only then because his cousin, Lloyd Nakama, director of golf at the Olomana Golf Club, invited him to play in a family tournament.
A strong competitive drive and good hand-eye coordination contributed to Nakama’s quick rise as a golfer, but the game did not come easy for him. “I hit balls all the time—I was a real range rat,” he said. “The first few years, I don’t think anyone hit more golf balls than I did.”
In 1983, Nakama won his first event as an amateur, the Oahu Country Club Invitational, and then won it again in 1984 and 1985 before turning pro. Two years later, in 1987, he captured his first professional tournaments, the Japan Airlines Open and Hawaii State Open.
Between 1985 and 1987, he won five times on the Golden State mini-tour in California; and between 1987 and 1990 he played the Asian Tour, where he had runner-up finishes in the Malaysian, India and Singapore Open championships and was a fully exempt Top 40 player.
Nakama said he owes a special debt of gratitude to pro golfer Chi Chi Rodriguez, who sponsored him on the Asian circuit. Rodriguez and his Hawaiian-born wife, Iwalani, were having lunch one day at the Olomana Golf Club when Casey’s cousin Lloyd introduced him to the Puerto Rican golfing legend.
Rodriguez was impressed with Casey’s abilities and invited him to Puerto Rico for a fundraising event and two weeks of practice—an experience that Nakama said improved his skills and boosted his confidence.
One of Nakama’s fondest memories is caddying for Rodriguez at the inaugural Senior Skins Game, held in 1988 at the Turtle Bay Resort. Pitted against Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Sam Snead, Rodriguez won 15 of 18 possible skins and took home $300,000 of a $360,000 purse. Snead was shut out.
After finishing his round, Rodriguez quietly wrote out a check for $5,000 and had Casey deliver it to a grateful Snead in his hotel room. It was a display of class and sportsmanship that Nakama has never forgotten.
During his years in Asia, Nakama contemplated playing in Japan, but says his goal was always to qualify for the PGA Tour. He went to the Tour Qualifying School five times, twice making it the third and final stage but never finishing high enough to earn his Tour Card.
In 1992 he stopped traveling and returned to the Islands. Over the next decade he won the Maui Open three times (1992, 1998 and 2001) and had single victories in the Hilo Open (1993), Mid-Pacific Open (1996) and Waikoloa Open (1999).
He started the Casey Nakama Golf Development Center at Olomana in 1996. “I began by teaching adults,” he said. “But in 1997 Tiger Woods turned pro and junior golf just blew up. We had hundreds of kids sign up.”
One of those kids was Michelle Wie, the reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion, who joined the program as a 10-year-old in 1999. Today, what started as summer program operates year-round, and its graduates include Cyd Okino, who qualified for the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open at age 14, and Bradley Shigezawa, who amassed 18 victories as a junior golfer and at 14 qualified for the 2006 U.S. Amateur.
Nakama gives a lot of the credit for the school’s success to his teaching assistants and fellow professionals Lance Suzuki, who was inducted into the Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame in 2002, Philip Chun and Norman-Ganin Asao.
The banquet is set for Saturday, February 7th, at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii in Moilili. The event welcomes the attendance of all supporters of the game. Ticket are being sold through the office of the Aloha Section PGA (808.593.2230) or by email to Kyra Chun (firstname.lastname@example.org). Ticket prices for Adults $70 and Children Age 10 & Younger $30 before January 23rd. After the 23rd ticket prices will be $85 for Adults and $45 for Children. Printable version of ticket registration form below.
TICKET INFORMATION REGISTRATION FORM