Big Island teen caddies for pro golfer second year in a row at PGA Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualālai
January 21, 2024, 1:00 AM HST
For the second year in a row, Kailua-Kona teen Katsuhiro Kevin Yamashita had the opportunity to caddie for pro golfer Alex Cejka during the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualālai.
Finishing the tournament Saturday, Cejka crouched down to look at how his golf ball lined up at the final [18th] hole, trying to determine the best way to hit it. Across the way from him was Yamashita as they nodded to each other, communicating silently on how to hit the ball in one final stroke.
“We did that on a bunch of other holes too,” the teen said. “I didn’t really tell him where to aim per se, I just told him what I thought it [the ball] would do.”
Despite Cejka’s 11th-place finish, Yamashita was happy with how the day went.
“We were fifth but we had ended up making a couple bogeys,” Yamashita said.
Steven Alker, 52, of New Zealand beat out last year’s champion, Steve Stricker, 56, of the United States, who tied for second place with Harrison Frazar, 52, also from the U.S.
Saturday started out with clear skies and hot. As the hours ticked on, the clouds moved in and sea salt filled the air like mist as the surf was up at least 12 to 15 feet, according to a National Weather Service advisory.
Overall, Yamashita said his experience on the course this year was an invaluable education to the game as he played with a pro who has captured top wins at three PGA tour championships over the years. The latest was in 2023 at the Senior Open Championship presented by Rolex in Wales.
“This isn’t something you get to do every day, right, to be able to caddie for someone like this,” Yamashita said. “And to be able to see what the pros go through to each shot, and see what they have on their club selections, what they see in the lie, or what they kind of see on the greens, it’s kind of cool to see.”
Cejka is different than most pros as he doesn’t stick to one caddie. While on the mainland, three or four family members help him out at tournaments. For two years in a row, Yamashita has been by his side on the Hualālai course.
“We bonded really well, and we played well last year,” Cejka said who tied for sixth in 2023. “I figured, why not do it again?”
Cejka enjoys working with the local junior golfer as it’s an opportunity to teach him.
“Not many young players have the possibility of being inside the ropes and seeing everything up close,” he said. “I love doing this.”
Cejka believes Yamashita has a chance to go pro.
Working with Yamashita also gives Cejka insight into reading the greens since the junior golfer has had more playing time on the North Kona course.
One of Yamashita’s golf coaches, Matt Mohi connected Cejka with the teen when the 53-year-old came to the tournament last year looking for a caddie.
Yamashita was an obvious choice for Cejka as the teen was serious and mature about the game.
Yamashita has been playing golf for a few years. In 2022 and 2023 he represented Team Hawai‘i in the Junior America’s Cup. Since graduating from Kealakehe High School last year, he’s been on the golf team at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo as he studies chemistry.
As a junior golfer, Yamashita said he can play aggressively, but his experience watching the pros has taught him there is a time to play safe and he has learned strategy.
“The whole reason I’m golfing is just so I can become pro one day,” Yamashita said. “I feel like I should be working harder, for sure, but I do want to be able to be on a PGA Tour one day.”
Mohi said working as a caddie doesn’t necessarily pave the way to the pros but the exposure to the game doesn’t hurt.
“I think being around it more, you see the dedication these guys have, and you get an idea of the sacrifice it takes in this kind of endeavor to be a competitive professional golfer, whatever the tour is,” Mohi said.
After his exposure to PGA pros two years in a row, the golf coach said Yamashita is focusing on his own short game on the green where the hole is.
“That’s where most of the scoring is done,” he said.
While Mohi no longer coaches Yamashita, the two stay in touch regularly.
“I try and hold his feet to the fire a little bit and make sure he stays on track,” Mohi said. “I’m definitely in his fan club and trying to share what I’ve experienced, and he’ll take what he wants and leave the rest.”