Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
For Cyd Okino, the first female head golf professional at Pearl Country Club in ‘Aiea, navigating the proverbial yellow brick road to fame and fortune has been an exhilarating journey, filled with extraordinary milestones that continue to punctuate each wondrous chapter in her book of life.
You’re Not in Kansas Anymore
That being said, Okino can breathe a collective sigh and boldly click her golf cleats now, because she’s not in Kansas (metaphorically speaking) anymore. Rather, Okino shares rarified air with others who have ascended to the mantle of excellence at the highest level — which was foretold when she had hit five holes-in-one by her early 20s — the first at age seven, and the second at age eight.
Okino’s first two holes-in-one were at Hickam Par 3 Golf Course. Her third hole-in-one (at age nine) was at Hawai‘i Kai Par 3 Golf Course. Okino’s fourth hole-in-one was at Crane Creek Country Club in Idaho, and her fifth hole-in-one was at Olomana Golf Course. At age 11, Okino left Oahu Country Club as the youngest winner of the Hawai‘i State Women’s Golf Association’s State Match-Play Championship. Okino held on to defeat USC-bound Shelcie Takenouchi of Kaua‘i one-up in the debut for both in the amateur event.
A Milestone in ‘Aiea
“It’s an honor to be here and I didn’t initially see it as a big deal, but I’ve had people talk to me and say this is huge,” Okino explained. “I started thinking about it more and realized that it’s good that I’m the first female head golf professional at Pearl Country Club and that in the future if I don’t play here forever, we can have more female head golf professionals,” she added.
Okino credits Pearl Country Club General Manager Ed Kageyama for her rapid advancement. Kageyama, who was Okino’s coach when she was in high school, recruited her to work at Pearl Country Club. Within one year, Okino ascended from starter, to assistant professional, to head professional.
Okino noted: “I was lucky to get this job and moved up quickly. I want to continue to keep learning, and grow. I have so much more that I have to do. Personally, I just want to work on becoming better every day with my job, people I work with and all of my family. I want to learn something new every day. It’s been an interesting ride. We’re planning on renovating our facility in the beginning of 2024, and I want to see that renovation through. And see what we can do with that, and go from there. If it doesn’t work out in five years I will see if I want to continue with golf or if I want to do something different.”
Genesis of a Shining Star
Cyrus Okino, her father, inspired Okino to pursue golf. She noted that her father was an avid golfer in high school and one of his best friends is Casey Nakama who was her golf coach, and that’s how she started the game of golf. Nakama has coached Okino throughout her career. “I never imagined attaining this part of golf and I guess at this point I was always a golfer, so I always envisioned my life to be when I was younger to play college golf and play professionally,” Okino said. “As for now, my position here, I never envisioned it.”
Okino is securely buckled in for the long haul. “I’m 28 and will be 29 at the end of the year,” Okino said. “Recently, I’ve been trying to figure out what the next step is, because everything has happened so fast. My goal professionally as a golfer was always to play on the tour and compete as long as I can.”
She also expressed her thoughts on hitting five holes-in-one: “You can hit a great shot and I know so many great golfers who have never had a hole-in-one. It’s a combination of skill and luck, but I think it’s more leaning towards the luck side, because I know for one of my holes-in-one, I didn’t even hit it in the direction of the hole and it went in the hole … I think holes-in-one are awesome!” Okino exclaimed. “If you can say you’ve had one, you know not everyone has had one, so it’s good to get one. My fifth hole-in-one was at Olomana, which was my home course, so I’m glad that I finally got a hole-in-one there, because that’s where I grew up and played every day.”
It’s All in the Mind
Okino’s thoughts on one of the most challenging aspects of golf: “I would have to say it’s what’s in between the ears … the mental game. Once golf gets to a certain level we all can hit the ball well, you know hitting it straight and getting on the green you can make putt, but if your mind gets in the way it affects the way you golf. It definitely affected how I did in some tournaments, and I’ve seen it to where I’m just overthinking everything, and I can’t even swing a club.”
Speaking of golf being a mental game, Interlachen Country Club in Minnesota was the most challenging course Okino competed at because it was the most prestigious.
“I played in the Women’s U.S. Open when I was 14 years old,” Okino recalled. “A lot was on the line and the stakes were high. I was so young and nervous, the conditions were top notch, and the greens were rolling. I definitely recall putting it off the green a couple of times. And the rough was grown out to be long, and that’s what made it so challenging and the most memorable.”
Another challenging situation Okino faced was her first tournament as a professional, while in Japan. “In my mind I put that extra pressure on myself,” Okino said. “That third tee shot was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been, and then I hit it fine. Every shot means making more money or making less money. I had a last putt and I don’t think it was three feet away at that point, I made the cut and was going to make money, and I missed the putt. There was like a $500 difference in prize money. Then I realized that this is real, and you really have to focus.”
The Engines of Inspiration
“I have many role models; golf and non-golf,” she said. “For golf, my role model is my coach Casey Nakama, who helped me shape the career I have now. I also consider Annika Sōrenstam my role model. She’s what I always wanted to become when I was growing up. As for the personal side, my dad and mom have been role models as well. I’d like to think that I’m a role model. More recently, I’ve started to coach more. I’d like to think that I’m a role model to my students.”
Okino emphasized that Title IX is the reason why all females can play sports. She explained that Title IX has given her, as well as everyone in future generations, the opportunity to compete in golf, as well as in life. “I appreciate it, and I hope that the game of golf continues to grow as it has in the last couple of years,” she said. “I hope that in the next three to five years that it continues to grow and that people want to learn more about golf and just have fun.”
Okino’s advice to current golfers is to enjoy the process and to know that golf is not a game of perfection. “I know there’s people who want to rush things when they’re starting off with golf and they want to get better fast, but this is definitely not a sport that you can just pick up and get right away, so just keep practicing if you want to get better,” she said. “You can’t just go out there and play and expect to become great, because you have to get the reps in.”
Her advice to future golfers is to persevere. Okino explained: “I know in the beginning it can be kind of a grind and everyone pushes you to do things, but sometimes we forget to just enjoy the game and stay interested.”
Okino has continued to hone her skills, despite the challenges of the global pandemic. “I’d like to think that what I’ve gone through and seeing who I am today, and you know we’ve had Michelle Wie, and I wanted to be like Michelle Wie,” Okino said. She added: “At least with what I’ve done playing golf and now in management, I want people to know that it’s possible. If I can leave this mark and inspire people to do that as well, that would make me happy.”
How does Okino unwind from golf and everything else? “Well, I love hiking and I haven’t had much time to do that recently, but I like just being outdoors. I’m not much of a beachgoer, but I like anything that keeps me active. I realized I don’t like to stay still for very long.”