Coaching suits him to a tee

By Ann Miller, Special to the Star-Advertiser

Earl Tamiya’s 32 years with UH-Hilo golfers has fostered success on and off the green

In the Hawaii golf world, you have probably heard Earl Tamiya’s name a lot over the past … oh, 50 years or so.

He grew up on Maui and learned how to golf barefoot at the Ala Wai Golf Course — when he wasn’t selling used balls for a nickel by the canal — with his University of Hawaii at Manoa friends.

In 1966 he moved to Hilo to manage a Ben Franklin Crafts store and moved on to work in job placement for 32 years at Hawaii Community College, helping out with Big Island junior golf in his spare time.

Now, at 80, he is about to match that long tenure. Tamiya became UH-Hilo’s men’s golf coach in 1991 and his 32nd season is just starting … as only an Earl Tamiya season can start.

“We do physicals and then we start with kempo karate with Lance Uchida,” Tamiya says, “and yoga with one of the instructors at UH-Hilo.”

It’s working. Karate’s “discipline and self-confidence” has helped foster “fighters” on the course. Yoga’s stretches and serenity kept his squad injury-free in its first year.

Since Tamiya took over, UH-Hilo has won four PacWest Conference titles and added seven top-eight regional finishes in NCAA Division II, composed of smaller schools with much smaller athletic budgets than Division I.

Earl Tamiya has garnered four PacWest Conference titles for UH-Hilo.

Leilehua alum and future touring pro Nick Mason was fourth at the 2004 NCAA D-II national championship. A year later he became a two-time All-American with a runner-up national finish. That helped lift Hilo, which also had current Hawaii pros Garrett Okamura and Kevin Shimomura, to a fourth-place national finish.

Those two seasons remain among Tamiya’s best memories in coaching, along with the 2014 all-Hawaii team that included Chris Shimomura, Corey Kozuma, Dalen Yamauchi and Kyeton Littel, and finished 13th nationally.

“I’ve been to a lot of nationals with teams and individuals,” Tamiya says. “Regionals and nationals, those are quite exciting.”

So are UH-Hilo’s celebrated tournaments, both at Waikoloa Beach Resort.

In the fall, the Vulcans host the Dennis Rose Intercollegiate, named in honor of Waikoloa’s late director of golf, who helped UH-Hilo immensely and is in the Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame. It is one of the largest D-II tournaments in the country, and Tamiya calls it a great showcase for Hawaii golf.

His 2018 team, ranked 71st nationally, won the event, with Jared Kinoshita breaking one of Mason’s many scoring records on his way to the individual title.

Kinoshita said he came to Hilo from the mainland via a typical Tamiya recruiting story: “He called me in class one day and said ‘I’m going to offer you a scholarship and you going come.’”

Tamiya also might have the best regular-season tournament in all of men’s golf. In February, Hilo is usually the lone D-II squad at its Amer Ari Intercollegiate.

The tournament has run 31 years, with UH-Manoa now co-hosting. Past medalists include Matt Kuchar (twice), Notah Begay, Anthony Kim and Jordan Spieth. This year, six of the final eight at the D-I national championship “warmed up” at Waikoloa.

“My standard line regarding our team and this tournament every year is good luck, we are going to need it,” Tamiya jokes. “But we are not in this to win it. We enjoy putting on one of the best tournaments in the country.”

Oregon coach Casey Martin played in it while he was at Stanford University. When he brought his team here a few years ago, he called the Amer Ari “one of the iconic events in collegiate golf. It was my favorite tournament as a player and it is now our team’s favorite tournament each year.”

Tamiya characterizes it as “putting Hawaii-Hilo on the map,” with every team wanting to come for “great golf, weather and hospitality.”

Kevin Ginoza, Waikoloa’s current director of golf, became a Vulcan soon after Tamiya arrived. He is now a volunteer assistant at UHHilo with former state high school golf champion Sean Maekawa, an assistant pro at Waikoloa, and Hilo fireman Anson Arakaki, a baseball All-American.

Tamiya’s son, Troy, general manager of Hilo Municipal Golf Course and a two-time state high school champion, has been his assistant for 20 years.

Brian Clarke, left, observed Karen Kau, center, and Elizabeth Jones as they walked up a hill above Kaimuki.

The assistants do most of the technical coaching, but Earl Tamiya has always been in charge. Ginoza believes being around “these young kids” is just as memorable for Tamiya as those postseason appearances, and keeps him sharp.

“There is no way a freshman can outwit him,” Ginoza says. “There is no way to BS Coach.”

Tamiya clearly enjoys his players’ energy and talent, and watching great golf shots keeps him going — along with his grandkids. But ultimately it’s watching those players succeed, in school and after they graduate, that has kept him zeroed in for 30-plus years.

“The players don’t realize what he instills in them until after they graduate,” Ginoza says.

“He pushes hard and expects the best from each player on the course and at practice. Nothing is ever given to you and you need to earn it.”

This season starts the end of this month, and the Dennis Rose Invitational is the end of October. Tamiya can’t wait.

“I enjoy the kids, working with the kids,” Tamiya says. “It’s nice to see them grow up and become good people. When I don’t enjoy it and cannot have fun, then I’ll retire. And that’s pretty soon.”

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