U.S. WOMEN'S AMATEUR
Akabane, 14, Keeps Golf in Perspective August 11, 2015 | Portland, Ore. By Lisa D. Mickey

An up-and-coming golf talent, 14-year-old Ty Akabane shows wisdom beyond her years off the course. (USGA/Steven Gibbons) 

U.S. Women's Amateur Home

It was a typical scene on a beautiful California day in Berkeley with two teens walking to Fat Slice for pizza.

But what the girls saw as they walked past a renowned public green space called People’s Park resonated with Ty Akabane and her friend, Vivian Pang. The teens encountered numerous homeless people living in the park and they wanted to do something to help.

“We saw them in the park and it really touched me,” said Akabane, 14, of Danville, Calif. “I told my parents when I got home. Seeing that made me appreciate all that I have.”

Pang, of San Ramon, Calif., had the idea to start a charity called “Care Kits for the Homeless” and she launched the charity through fundly.com. The girls raised funds and collected personal items for the park residents.

The funds helped purchase bottled water, snacks, socks, hand wipes and soap, among other things. They filled plastic bags with the items and returned to the park with Pang’s father to hand out the bags.

“The people were really happy to receive the items and one woman cried when I gave her water,” said Akabane, a competitor in this week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at Portland Golf Club who opened stroke play with an 81. “It made me feel really good to help. My heart actually felt warm.”

Akabane’s father, Chris, is a University of California-Berkeley alum, so he was familiar with People’s Park.

“When you go to school there, you see the park every day and you walk through all the people living on the streets,” he said. “For Ty to want to contribute meant a lot.”

Added her mother, Paige: “We’ve always encouraged Ty to reach out and support things beyond just herself. She’s been extremely fortunate with her experiences, so the idea of giving back is very important.”

Indeed, Ty has experienced more than most teens. Two years ago, while she was in Hawaii visiting her mother’s family during the Christmas holiday, she had a chance encounter with the leader of the free world.

Ty and her father were playing at Luana Hills Golf and Country Club in Kailua, and as they rounded a bend in their golf cart, they saw several carts ahead on the path. As they drew closer, a tall man waved them through and the teen saw it was President Barack Obama.

“There were other golf carts around him with Secret Service agents, but as we drove by, he held out his hand and I gave him a high five,” said Akabane, giggling. “It was pretty cool.”

Another time, while she was at her home course, The Bridges Golf Club in San Ramon, she encountered a tall man on the range “wearing bright clothes and hitting the ball super far.” The precocious teen wandered over and discovered the big hitter was Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice.

“I took his picture and he signed a golf ball and gave it to me,” she said. “My dad is a big fan of his.”

While the San Ramon Valley High School freshman with a 3.9 GPA devotes most of her time to schoolwork, golf and charity, she also has become involved with LPGA-USGA Girls Golf in Pleasanton, Calif.

Akabane assists former LPGA Tour player and 1985 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Dana Dormann, who leads the program at the Pleasanton Golf Center for girls ages 7-17. She helps set up the skill stations for the girls before they arrive and assists Dormann with organized activities for the juniors.

“When I’m older, I want to become an orthodontist, so I really like working with kids,” said Akabane. “I remember when I used to participate in that program and I always thought it was cool to see the older girls help.”

Akabane doesn’t have a lot of free time, but whenever her family goes to Hawaii, she heads straight to the water. It’s there that she enjoys hopping on a surfboard, paddleboard, boogie board or pole fishing for oama, a type of whiskered goatfish that swim in huge schools and put up a fight when they are caught.

“They tug a lot,” said Akabane. “We wade into the water with fishing poles to catch them, but we let them go.”

Akabane has four more years of high school before she finds her own “right fit” to play college golf. Education is important to Akabane, something she shares in common with 2014 U.S. Women’s Open champion Michelle Wie, whom Akabane considers a role model.

“For me, education always comes before golf,” Akabane said. “It’s important to get a good education and I want to be well-rounded like Michelle Wie. I really like Michelle because she also gives back to her community whenever she goes home to Hawaii.”

After this week’s championship, Akabane plans to squeeze in one more American Junior Golf Association tournament in Medford, Ore., before starting school on Aug. 25.

Her Women’s Amateur appearance marks her second USGA championship. She also competed in last year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior at Forest Highlands Golf Club in Flagstaff, Ariz.

“Last year, I was really nervous on the first tee, so hopefully, this year, I’ll be able to handle the nerves a lot better,” she said.

Akabane says her goal is to advance to match play, but she is aware of the quality of players around her.

“It’s a very competitive field, but it’s cool to be playing with girls who won the NCAA Championship,” she said. “My expectations are to have a lot of fun and to just take it all in. It’s a great opportunity to be here.”

Opportunity is something Akabane says she will never take for granted due to her charitable work at People’s Park.

“That experience was really impactful for Ty,” said Chris Akabane.

Akabane now understands that a bogey is just a bogey and not a night spent sleeping without a roof over your head.

Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.