In the immediate aftermath of Wednesday’s final round of the 2019 CIF Boys Golf Championships, La Costa Canyon senior Kento Yamawaki was disappointed at finishing second in the individual competition. After shooting a seven-under par 65 for the closing 18 of the 36-hole tournament at Admiral Baker Golf Course, the 2017 CIF individual champion’s 11-under par 133 left him one stroke behind Torrey Pines senior Isaac Rodea.
But a quick look at the big picture transformed the frustration to contentment for the UC Berkeley-bound Yamawaki. After all, his play had keyed La Costa Canyon to its third consecutive CIF Division II title and a second place all-division placement, meaning that the Mavericks would be headed to the CIF Southern California Regional Tournament for the second year in a row. A late surge by Coach Casey Sovacool’s squad lifted them past Cathedral Catholic to capture the D-II crown by a two-stroke margin.
“The team win, particularly three straight, means a lot,” said Yamawaki. “We were second my freshman year and at the time, I didn’t realize how important CIF was for the team, especially the seniors.
“When we won my sophomore season, I realized how much it meant. Everyone was excited about it, teachers at school were coming up to congratulate us—it was pretty cool.”
This time around it was a dogfight all the way at both the team and individual levels. LCC trailed Cathedral Catholic by two strokes after Monday’s opening day and the lead changed hands several times over the course of Wednesday morning when the players from both schools were in the same pairings. With both teams having just two holes to play, the Dons were sporting a four-stroke advantage.
In the words of LCC Coach Casey Sovacool, “It was looking pretty bleak and at that point, we knew that if we tied, we would lose the sixth man score tiebreaker (each team sends out six golfers with the five low scores counting).
“But a lot can happen when you’re counting five scores and these kids know how fast strokes can disappear in golf.”
When the dust had cleared, the Mavericks were two-under par for the final two holes while the Dons went four-over—championship Mavericks. Yamawaki, registering four birdies in the last eight holes, and freshman Luke Potter, who birdied five-of-the-first six on the back nine while grabbing fourth in the individual standings, were the catalysts for La Costa Canyon. But there were plenty of heroes on Sovacool’s unit.
Senior Josh Rooker and freshman Jonas Appel both birdied their final holes and senior Matt Pennington, who had a rough outing Monday, “stepped up when we needed him,” according to Sovacool.
“Our team was clutch at the end today,” observed Yamawaki. “Luke was brilliant and everyone capitalized on opportunities which was really nice to see.
“I think it was huge for us to get back to two down vs. Cathedral by the end of the day Monday. At one point we were 10 back and we managed not to let it get further out of hand.”
Four down to then leader Caden Fioroni of Torrey Pines after a four-putt bogey on his first hole Thursday, Yamawaki got it turned around in a big way en route to the best round of the tournament. He credited the day off between rounds for his strong close.
“My shots were awful on Monday but having the day between was huge,” he said. “Tuesday, I made a small tweak, a little fix in my swing and played a few holes afterward.
“I was really confident off the tee today, put myself in a lot of good spots and except for that one hiccup hole, my putting was amazing. I made three putts in the 30-35 ft. range and another from about 25 ft. I’m not sure I’ve ever done that before.”
Sovacool knows what a special player he has had. “I think what separates him from other players is that he has a belief in himself that is second to no other athlete I’ve known,” said Sovacool. “He wanted to play in the leaders’ group today, to go low and put pressure on them.
The magnificent senior talked more about the bittersweet nature of his runner-up finish to Torrey Pines’ Rodea, who was placed in another group to avoid being matched with his teammate Fioroni, the first round leader.
“Initially, I was down about the second place finish,” said Yamawaki, who drained eight birdies and by his estimation made close to 200 feet worth of putts. “It’s never a good feeling to come up one stroke short and start thinking about all of the opportunities where you could have saved a stroke here or there.”
Looking at his career CIF record which boasts a second place finish as a freshman, the championship as a sophomore and third place last season, put Wednesday’s runner-up performance in perspective.
“When I consider it as a whole, I would say I’m pretty happy about how awesome it was to play consistently well enough to put myself in contention every year,” said Yamawaki. And he’s still got the CIF Regional and potentially CIF State Championship tournaments to look forward to.
Both LCC and Torrey Pines will be headed to the regional, an 18-hole event being contested over Pasadena’s Brookside Golf Club next Thursday (May 23). The winner there advances to the 18-hole State tourney, slated for May 29 at Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach.
“We’ve been focused on going to the regionals and beyond,” admitted Yamawaki. “Our slogan this year has been ‘the road to Poppy.’
“It’s been on our mind since the beginning of the season.”