Suzuki, Nishimoto deserving Hall of fame picks

Lance Suzuki and Dan Nishimoto go back a long way together, especially when it comes to playing in the Kaua'i Open at the Wailua Golf Course over the years.

When Suzuki won the first of his six Kaua'i Open titles in 1976, Nishimoto finished with the best score among the amateur players.

When Suzuki won three years later, Nishimoto again was the low amateur. In the 1991 Kaua'i Open Nishimoto beat Suzuki in a playoff. All told, the two have combined to win the tournament 11 times.

So it seems only fitting that the two will be inducted together in the Hawai'i Golf Hall of Fame. They will be honored at an awards luncheon at the Hawai'i Prince Hotel April 29.

Nishimoto says that he is honored to be named to the hall, and flattered that he's being inducted at the same time as Suzuki.

"Compared to Lance, I don't think I deserve it. Look at his stats compared to mine," Nishimoto said.

Nishimoto need not be embarrassed. No golfer in Hawai'i has won more tournaments than Suzuki, who will turn 51 on June 16. That includes such Hall of Fame legends as Allan Yamamoto and the late Ted Makalena, Francis I'i Brown, Arthur Armstrong, Jimmy Ukauka and Guinea Kop.

Suzuki has won 43 tournaments since turning pro in 1974, the year after winning the prestigious Manoa Cup. He had at least one victory for 23 straight years before his streak ended in 1996.

During that span, Suzuki won the Mid-Pacific Open and Waikoloa Open eight times, the Rainbow Open five times and the Hawai'i State Open four times. In addition to his six Kaua'i Open titles, Suzuki won the Navy-Marine Open and Maui Open three times and the Army Open and Hawai'i Pearl Open twice. He also won the 1980 Makaha Open and the 1974 Hilo Open.

Two other highlights of his career were finishing tied for fifth with Tom Watson and two others in the 1977 Hawaiian Open and playing in the Senior PGA Tour's Turtle Bay Championship last October. The latter was a particular thrill because he played before his hometown fans.

Suzuki was an all-state athlete in golf and basketball at Kahuku High School in 1969. He won individual honors in leading the Red Raiders to the state golf championship and was the star guard on the school's league basketball championship team.

Suzuki later earned first-team All-America golf honors as a senior at Brigham Young University in 1973. He returned home that summer to win the Manoa Cup at the O'ahu Country Club, beginning a remarkable career in local golf that's well deserving of the honor of being inducted into the Hawai'i Golf Hall of Fame.

He is not done playing, said Suzuki, who is glad that no one has to be retired in golf in order to be considered for the Hall of Fame.

"Still, it's a funny feeling. Like giving a eulogy at your own funeral," he said. "I look back at some of the guys (in the Hall of Fame) — Ronnie (Castillo), Allan (Yamamoto) and John Kalinka. I learned a lot from them."

Nishimoto might not have as gaudy a record as Suzuki. But the Lihu'e, Kaua'i, resident who still lives in his hometown, has proved he's a winner as well.

Winning the Kaua'i Open five times — the first in 1970 as a University of Hawai'i senior — Nishimoto, who will be 54 in July, was one of the top amateur golfers before turning pro in 1987 to play on the Senior PGA Tour. In an attempt to gear up his game, he played on the Asian Tour for four years and on the Jordan Tour for two years.

His victories include the 1974 Makalena State Open, 1981 State Amateur, 1991 Maui Open, 1992 Hilo Open and 1993 ANA Makaha Open. He also won the 1976 State AJA title and was Hawai'i's low qualifier in 1973, 1980 and 1982 for the National Public Links Championships.

He qualified and played in the U.S. Senior Open the past two years, missing the cut in the 2000 event at Saucon Valley, Pa., and finishing 34th last year when it was held at the Salem (Mass.) Country Club. He'll try to qualify for this year's U.S. Senior Open in Baltimore and the Senior Tour event, also in Maryland, the week before.

Nishimoto qualified on a Monday to play in two other Senior Tour events — the 1998 Ka'anapali Classic and the 1999 TransAmerica in Napa Valley, Calif.

Unlike Suzuki, Nishimoto never had a chance to excel in high school golf. There was no state golf tournament when he graduated from Kapa'a High in 1966, and the school's golf team had to travel to O'ahu to play matches because both rival Kaua'i and Waimea didn't field golf programs as yet.

But like Suzuki, he is now in the Hawai'i Golf Hall of Fame, joining an elite group of individuals.

"He's always been a good competitor and always has a youthful attitude," said Suzuki, referring to his fellow inductee.