Kaui, Green Valley grab state golf lead despite shaky 18th

It's not the score but the finish that sticks out in Alex Kaui's mind.

Despite struggling through nine shots on the par-4 18th hole, though, the Green Valley golfer is in position to become a two-time Class 4A state champion.

Kaui shot even-par 72 to finish atop the leaderboard after the first day of the state meet Wednesday at Bear's Best, and her Green Valley teammates backed it up with a first-place 317 total.

The junior shot 3-under 33 on the front nine and sank three birdies during a four-hole stretch across Nos. 8-11 to jump to 5 under after 17 holes.

"I remember I made a few nice long putts for birdie," said Kaui, who had only 27 putts on the round. "Some of the birdies I stuck close within 6 feet and then sank it. I play the par 5s well, stuck those close and got birdies."

Kaui's teammates also came through on the 5,532-yard course.

Freshman Mercedes Khumnark and junior Sarah Thomas each shot 80, and senior Kristin Hsu added an 85 to help the Gators pull away from second-place Faith Lutheran (333).

Coronado sits four strokes back of the Crusaders, followed by Bishop Gorman (347) and Spanish Springs (359).

Kaui's momentum started on the 432-yard, par-5 eighth hole, where she drove her tee shot 260 yards and sank a 30-foot putt for birdie.

But her strong first day was dampened with trouble on No. 18, where she hooked her tee shot well left and got caught in a bunker before holing out a 9 on the 368-yard par 4.

"The way we played, we all had our bad holes today," Kaui said. "But we know what we need to do for tomorrow."

Silverado's Brittany Whatley used a 37 on the back nine to stand second individually at 75.

After starting with two bogeys on the first three holes, Whatley had two birdies and a bogey on the back nine heading to the 18th tee box before a double bogey on the final hole.

Faith Lutheran's Brianna Becker shot 76 for third, and Coronado's Natalie Yamamoto was fourth at 77. The Cougars' Melanie Chambers and the Crusaders' Annie Freman were tied for fifth at 78.

Kaui said her uneven finish motivates her more for today, when the first group resumes play with an 8 a.m. tee time.

"It gives me another reason to really shoot lights out," she said. "I had all the reasons to do it today, because I wanted to do it for the team. But that didn't happen, and it intensifies the need to do it (Thursday).

"They know what happened to me on the last hole, too, and they really want to play better tomorrow."

Contact reporter Sean Walker at swalker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0430.