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UNLV golfer blossoms in spring, earns trip to NCAA regionals

Toa Yokoyama was born and lived her early years in Tokyo, went to middle school in Australia and high school in Florida.

But it’s Las Vegas where she has found a home starring for UNLV’s women’s golf team.

Yokoyama has a home game this week playing the biggest tournament of her collegiate career. The junior is teeing it up in the Las Vegas NCAA regional starting Monday at Spanish Trail Country Club, the lone Rebel to make the field after the team was overlooked for the tournament.

“I’m pretty excited,” she said. “It’s just I’m a little worried because I don’t have my teammates around me. But the fact that we’re here, I’ll still have my people and have common people that I see.”

Rebels coach Amy Bush-Herzer said Yokoyama’s ability to be in familiar surroundings and sleep in her own bed gives her a big advantage over a field that includes 12 schools and five other individuals whose teams failed to qualify.

Five teams and the top individual not from one of those squads from each of the six regionals will move on to the NCAA championship later this month at La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, California.

“There is some uniqueness being an indie, but I know Toa and have no doubt she can handle it,” Bush-Herzer said.

Yokoyama could be dangerous if she plays like she has throughout the spring. She has five top-10 finishes, including a third at the San Diego State Classic, and led UNLV with a 72.25 scoring average. Her low tournament came at the Chevron Classic in Houston, where she finished at 9-under 207.

Her efforts landed her first-team honors in the Mountain West.

It’s been a huge improvement for a player who said it took her time to adjust to college golf.

“I was struggling, but I found my recipe during my offseason in December,” she said.

Yokoyama added new swing and putting coaches for the physical side and a mental coach for the other side.

“The team has helped me a lot,” she said, adding Bush-Herzer and assistant coach Tracy Stanford have also been key. “They helped me understand what my negative part is and my positive part, and they push me.”

Bush-Herzer said there were many conversations with Yokoyama stressing that she is good enough to be a force on the course.

“I don’t want to use the word light switch, because I knew she put in a lot of work and it wasn’t that simple,” Bush-Herzer said. “But I saw the transition. It’s kind of one of those things where we get to these tournaments and it’s like, ‘I got this, coach.’”

Yokoyama eventually hopes to turn pro and will get a taste of it in two weeks as a sponsor invite to the Epson Tour’s Copper Rock Championship outside St. George, Utah.

But Yokoyama said she is 100 percent committed to return to UNLV for her senior season.

“I like the facilities here, like the courses we get to play. There’s a lot of Asian culture here that I really like,” she said of Las Vegas. “It’s just really nice.”

Bush-Herzer is thrilled Yokoyama will be coming back.

“It’s always nice when you have student-athletes that are here for multiple years and you get to know them and get to know their personality,” she said. “And you know, Toa is just the best. She’s fun to be around, and she’s a great teammate.”

Greg Robertson covers golf for the Review-Journal. Reach him at grobertson@reviewjournal.com.

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