Aloha, Sawgrass


PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Traveling from Hawaii to Florida is no puddle jump. But this week, six Golf Channel Am Tour Senior National Championship competitors decided to make the journey to Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

Making the trip to the mainland is Daniel Chong from Kaneohe, James Mansell from Kailua, Tama Taulau and Kyle Paishon from Pearl City, Bill Burr from Mililani and Dale Dennison from Honolulu. 

Next week, twelve Hawaii tour participants will tee it up in the National Championships.

Among this week's Hawaiian Six, Chong (pictured right, barely missing a birdie putt on Dye's Valley Course Tuesday morning) has had the most prolific year on tour. The 52-year-old is competing in the Sr. Sarazen flight (12.0-15.9) and has three wins this year. His journey from Kaneohe to Sawgrass on Saturday required an eight-hour flight from Honolulu to Houston, a two-hour layover and another two-hour flight to Jacksonville. But he shook off jet lag quick enough to play all 36 holes on Sunday at TPC Sawgrass, followed by a follow-up 18 on the PLAYERS Stadium before the tournament officially began Tuesday. 

In 2012, the national tournament's return to Sawgrass served as year-long motivation for him to keep up with his game.

'I made a commitment to play the whole year,' he said. 'I was able to bring my handicap down, which got me promoted to the Sr. Sarazen flight.'

After two victories in the Sr. Jones flight, victory No. 3 came in the Sr. Sarazen flight in the Gambler's Classic at Ewa Beach Golf Club in July. But the National finals are a different ballgame compared to the local Hawaii events (Chong finished in the middle of the pack when he competed in 2010 at Sawgrass). Four courses and much deeper fields in each flight ensure the player with the most complete game wins. After the opening round's morning wave on Dye's Valley at TPC Sawgrass, Chong finds himself in 11th place, eight strokes behind leader Steve Griffin from Lake Placid, Florida.

Meanwhile, Paischon, 54, is making his fourth visit to the national finals. He has three, third place finishes in ten events in Hawaii in 2012. He makes the trip to nationals yearly to not only compete but to run into some familiar faces.

'The camaraderie is great,' he said. 'I keep in touch with people from all over: Las Vegas, Texas, Chicago...'

Hawaii not only has a golf-mad populous, but it's also one of the world's most coveted golf destinations, so flights are packed with golfers going both ways. Later this year, Hawaii's Am Tour participants will welcome mainlanders onto their home turf for the Hawaii Championship, an Am Tour major tournament held on Maui at the Kapalua Bay and Plantation Courses, December 8-9th. 

Here, the Hawaii locals will get the chance to show off their trade winds game and of course, some Hawaiian hospitality. 

'We'll show them the 'aloha' spirit!' said Paischon.