Coach Mike Wydra's UC San Diego Golf team turned in perhaps its best performance of the 2011 season last week, finishing sixth against an extremely strong 14-team Division II field in the Southern California Intercollegiate at Mission Viejo Country Club. Leading the way was senior Keith Okasaki who fired a 54-hole total of 223 which left him third in the individual standings. "Keith is our team captain and clearly our No. 1 player," says Wydra. "He's gone to the post-season every year and I think his finish at Mission Viejo has him motivated to step it up and get there again as a senior." With his squad starting the run towards "the championship season," the Sacramento native took time to talk about last week's tournament, his team and the game of golf.
Q-After finishing third at last week's Southern California Intercollegiate at Mission Viejo Country Club, you said you didn't play that well. How do you account for the result?
OKASAKI-Coach Wydra prepared us well, explaining every step he took in setting up the course as difficult as he did. Knowing what he was trying to accomplish, I was able to play conservatively, miss to the correct side of the hole, and manage my game around the course making pars.
Q-How difficult was the Mission Viejo course and the conditions faced during the tournament? How do you keep the right frame of mind when facing a demanding situation on the golf course?
OKASAKI-Mission Viejo is the toughest course we play all year and with the course being wet because of all the rain, it played almost impossibly tough. Having played here the last three years, I know that everyone struggles and making a bogey here and there isn't too big of a deal.
Q-It's been a tough season to date for the Triton golf team. Do you look at your individual performance and that of the team at the SoCal tournament as a possible turning point?
OKASAKI-I sure hope so. It's been a frustrating year, especially knowing that personally I haven't played near where I think I can. But after finally playing decently in a tournament, hopefully we will be able to finish the season strong.
Q-When did you start playing golf and what do you remember about your first experience?
OKASAKI-I started going to the driving range when I was about four, and played my first 18 hole round when I was seven. I don't remember much of that other than I shot 133 and didn't yet know that wasn't exactly a good score.
Q-What physical aspect of the game do you find most challenging?
OKASAKI-The toughest part of playing college golf is walking 36 holes on the first day of each tournament. With each round being about an eight-mile walk, we are all exhausted at the end of the day. However, it's nothing compared to the mental part of the game.
Q-How much of golf is mental and what, if any, exercises do you do to both prepare yourself for and react to circumstances during a round?
OKASAKI-Golf is almost completely mental and anyone who plays is completely crazy. But over the years, I've learned to keep an open mind and not expect perfection. This helps deal with the bad shots and keeping a level head.
Q-What part of your game has improved the most since you arrived at UCSD?
OKASAKI-My overall consistency has improved the most since entering UCSD. Wydra is the best golf instructor I've met so far and he has exponentially improved my game over the last few years.
Q-As a Northern California native, what attracted you to UC San Diego and what role did golf play in your decision to come south?
OKASAKI-Getting out of NorCal was one of the biggest attractions, and I had heard San Diego wasn't a bad place to live. Golf played a huge role in my decision, since I definitely wanted to play golf at a school where I would get a valuable education and decided UCSD was a perfect fit.
Q-What are Mike Wydra's strengths as a coach?
OKASAKI-Mike has a lot of years of experience, both as a top level player and a coach who has won the national championship. In addition, he is an excellent swing coach and has the unique ability to present concepts to his players in multiple ways until the concept is grasped.
Q-What would the average golfer be surprised to learn about playing collegiate golf?
OKASAKI-I think he'd be surprised to learn the degree of difficulty of keeping up with school work while traveling so often for tournaments, practicing between events, and maintaining the level of your golf performance from week to week.
Q-Among this year's UCSD players, best off the tee? Best putter? Most creative with trouble shots?
OKASAKI-I'd have to say combining distance and accuracy, I am the best off the tee. Lewis Simon is the best putter, as his performance this year would indicate. I am the most creative with trouble shots, having the most experience getting out of a tight spot and saving par.
Q-Your dream foursome-who would be in the group?
OKASAKI- Tiger (Woods), Ben Hogan, and Jack (Nicklaus).
Q-Among those you've played, what's your favorite course? Which one was the toughest? Which is San Diego's most under-rated?
OKASAKI-Favorite course-Lake Merced in San Francisco. Toughest-Spyglass Hill in Monterey or Mission Viejo. Not sure of San Diego's most under-rated, but my favorite here that maybe only eight people play each day due to it's exclusiveness is The Grand.
Q-Among those you've never played, which would you most like a chance to try?
OKASAKI-Augusta National. It's one of the most exclusive courses in the world that we see every year on TV. Getting to play would mean winning some large golf tournaments or befriending someone in an extremely high place.
Q-In your estimation, which of golf's four majors is the toughest to win?
OKASAKI-The U.S. Open. Like every major, it attracts the best field possible. Also, the course is set up absolutely impossibly, where sometimes a four round score that is over par will win. It's just a grueling test that completely examines every aspect of your game including your mental toughness.
Q-What's been the highlight of your golf career?
OKASAKI-In September 2010 before coming down to UCSD for my senior year, I won the Northern California Golf Association's Valley Amateur which is one of the NCGA's three major events.
Q-Do you plan on playing after you graduate from UCSD?
OKASAKI-I plan on continuing to play amateur events, nothing professional.
Q-You're an environmental science major. What are some of the most interesting classes you've taken? What do you hope to do with that in the future?
OKASAKI-One of the most interesting classes I've taken is Evolution. I'm not sure what I want to do yet. This year, I had an internship at the Sustainability Resource Center on campus which proved to be quite interesting.
Q-What are three things you'd like to accomplish in the next five years?
OKASAKI-Ideally, I'd like to get good at golf and make a career out of it. I don't plan to play professionally because currently I am not good enough. But if something were to happen, such as meeting a genie, and I became good enough to play, then I'd love to make a career out of it. Failing in that, graduating and finding a respectable job would not be a bad idea.
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