APL Champion Memories: Guy Yamamoto (1994)


Hawaii native Guy Yamamoto broke through for his U.S. Amateur Public Links victory in 1994 at Eagle Bend Golf Club in Bigfork, Mont. (USGA/Diane Chrenko Becker)
By David Shefter, USGA
April 24, 2014

For 11 years, Guy Yamamoto had attempted to qualify for the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, so when he finally broke through and made the field in 1994, the Kauai native made the most of the opportunity. Yamamoto, a quarterfinalist in the 1991 U.S. Mid-Amateur, defeated future PGA Tour winner and U.S. Ryder Cup player Chris Riley in 37 holes to claim the APL title at Eagle Bend Golf Club in Bigfork, Mont. Today, Yamamoto, 52, is the general manager of Mililani Golf Club, a public course just 25 minutes from Waikiki Beach on Oahu. He started there last September after a previous stint at Pearl Country Club. A graduate of the University of Hawaii, Yamamoto is a career amateur who was inducted into the Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame in January.

Looking at the bracket from the 1994 APL, you beat some pretty impressive names, including three who went on to PGA Tour success in Matt Gogel, Notah Begay III (semifinals) and Chris Riley (final). Does that bring back fond memories?

At the time, I believe all three were first-team All-Americans. We started the week out where I was on one side of the bracket and another Hawaii guy (Michael Pavao) who was in college was on the other side. He knew all these guys by heart. Every day, I would get the lowdown. I was 32. All six guys I played were college guys. They probably looked at me when I showed up on the tee like: “This guy is like 30-something. What’s he doing?” I think that worked in my favor.

How much did it mean for you to win the title?

My first caddie job was the [1975] Public Links in Hawaii at my home course (Wailua in Kauai). That was the first golf tournament I ever saw. So, it’s funny that the biggest tournament that I would win would be that one. I remember watching most of the final. It was an all-Hawaii final (Randy Barenaba defeated Alan Yamamoto). [Alan and I] are not related, but we’re very good friends and he’s been a mentor to me. I remember him missing the putt on the [36th hole] and then him losing on the very first hole of sudden death. Then, for me 19 years later, going to the 37th hole -- and thank God I was able to change the tide of our surname [with a winning par].

In 1975, the APL winner didn’t receive a Masters invitation. What was it like for you to receive such a perk when you won?

It was quite a bonus. My caddie for stroke play was a young guy from Montana, but he really didn’t understand where to put the bag. My roommate for the week, Phil Chun from Hawaii, missed the cut, so I asked him what he was doing for the rest of the week. He goes, “I was thinking about stopping in Vegas, but I will probably hang out for a little while.” I asked if he wanted to caddie for me, and he said yes. He was a thin guy and probably had a 28[-inch] waist back then. I jokingly asked him, “Do you think they have a jumpsuit your size [at Augusta National]?” He goes, “I don’t care if they have to sew up a pant leg, I’ll find one that fits me.” We laughed about it on Tuesday night. On Friday night before the final, we’re in the hotel room getting ready to go to sleep. He tells me, “I know you have a lot on your mind, but I would really love to caddie for you at Augusta.”  The mood was a lot more [tense]. He did end up as my caddie for the Masters. 

Getting to USGA events from Hawaii is no easy task, but the APL offered something the other championships didn’t – travel expenses. Did that make the APL more attractive for players from Hawaii?

In those days, the travel stipend [from the local APL Championship Committee] was still in place and so it was by far the most popular USGA event for non-juniors in Hawaii. To go to the [U.S.] Amateur or Mid-Amateur, it cost a lot of money. When I played in the Amateur in ’91, my airfare [to Chattanooga, Tenn.] was $700. And I played a practice round with this guy, Rick Southwick, who was from Long Island. He drove from Long Island with his mom and his caddie and he said it cost him less than $100.

The travel expenses [for the APL] put the Hawaii golfers on equal footing. Eventually, there were four [sectional] qualifiers and there were like 12 of us who went every year. It was a fun trip. We all knew each other. We tried to stay at the same hotel. And we would have a little competition between the eastern half of the state, Kauai and Oahu, vs. Maui and the Big Island. We’d all go to dinner on Tuesday night and the winners would be treated by the losers. Usually, the committee guys would wind up paying. But when the stipend went away [after the 1999 APL], there were only like two people going. The complexion of the trip changed. I think I was quite lucky that I got to enjoy that period where we had really great camaraderie.

During one stretch, Hawaii players were flourishing in the APL. Charles and Randy Barenaba won in 1974 and ’75. Dean Prince won in 1978. You won in 1994 and Casey Watabu claimed the title in 2006. Plus, there were a number of runners-up in the 1960s and ‘70s.

If you look back in the history, there are several Hawaii people who were on the cusp of winning. There was a gentleman in the mid-1960s by the name of Hung Soo Ahn. He lost in the [1962] finals. Art Fujita was the runner-up in 1969. Art was a committeeman for Kauai. Al B. Souza still is in the [USGA] record book for low third-round score [68 in 1972 at Coffin Municipal G.C. in Indianapolis; the APL was conducted at 72 holes of stroke play from 1967-74]. He’s a member at Waialae Country Club. I saw him one day and said, “Hey Al, do you know you still have the record?” He said he remembered the whole thing. A bunch of those guys have been inducted into the Hawaii Hall of Fame.

Are you sad to see the APL being retired?

It’s somewhat disappointing. By the time I got wind of it, it was pretty much a done deal. I asked if they were thinking about pulling the Augusta invitation. I thought that was fine, too, because if you look back at the history of it, they didn’t always give you a Masters invitation. I think the championship [was greater] than just that invitation. Now, that was one of the best weeks of my golf life. And I am truly appreciative of being invited. And I hear the other side of the argument. I’m not sure if something couldn’t have been tweaked to accommodate it. There are so many variables. It’s just sad that something couldn’t be done to tweak it. In life, some things have to change. As long as they keep the trophy polished nicely [at the USGA Museum], I’ll be happy.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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