When David Kaui bought his daughter, Alexandra, her first set of plastic golf clubs, he wasn’t trying to build the next great golfer.
He was just trying to keep the toddler away from his bag of clubs, as Alexandra liked to “push it around like a vacuum.”
What David Kaui didn’t know, was that those plastic clubs would help his daughter develop a passion for the sport, one that has led her to a spot on golf’s biggest stage.
The recent Green Valley graduate will participate in the U.S. Women’s Open Championship, which begins Thursday at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y.
“It feels very ecstatic,” the 17-year-old Kaui said of qualifying for the major. “Like anything else, it’s kind of hard to explain the feeling. You can’t believe that you accomplished something so big, especially at my age.”
Alexandra was about 2 years old when David Kaui bought those plastic clubs to protect his set. And one day while he was watching golf on TV with a club in hand, he noticed something interesting.
There was Alexandra, plastic club in hand, working on her own swing.
“To my surprise, while watching Golf Channel, she was doing the same thing,” David Kaui said. “She was mimicking the guys on TV, mimicking me. And before you know it, she was banging plastic balls off the walls of the house.”
She graduated to real clubs at 3 and soon was on the driving range, hitting ball after ball.
Alexandra Kaui, who won three individual state titles at Green Valley, said she doesn’t remember a time when golf wasn’t part of her life. She began playing in tournaments at age 7, and she believes that experience can help, even at the U.S. Open.
“I really grew up with competition, so it’s kind of in my blood and in my personality to be able to compete without faltering,” Alexandra Kaui said. “It kind of comes natural. When I get there, I feel like I’ll be more focused and play better.”
Alexandra Kaui knows more eyes than ever will be on her as she plays the course. But she’s hoping to use that attention as motivation.
“Even though I see cameras and thousands of people watching, I need to think they’re watching me for a reason, because I’m good enough to be here and they want to watch me play,” Alexandra Kaui said.
David Kaui said part of his job will be to try to keep his daughter calm as he serves as her caddie.
“Come the Open, there’s going to be thousands of people around,” David Kaui said. “I’m going to try to create a whole other cocoon walking down the fairway. Just you and me walking down the fairway.
“If she plays as if nobody’s around, she’ll do well. I know she will.”
Alexandra Kaui dominated a sectional qualifier last month to earn her spot in the Open, shooting 3-under-par 141 to claim a five-stroke victory at Arrowhead Country Club in Glendale, Ariz.
She had missed qualifying for the 2012 Open by a single stroke.
“I was so close to the point that it motivated me to really take it this year,” Alexandra Kaui said. “Last year, I had an approach shot coming in (on 18), perfect lie. Because of the pressure, I screwed up and cracked under the pressure and ended up not making it by one stroke. It was all nerves.”
David Kaui said his daughter was a more mature golfer at this year’s qualifier.
“The mistakes she made and stuff like that, I could tell this girl was nervous (last year),” David Kaui said. “This tournament, she was so relaxed. She learned how to deal with it, get around it and deal with the pressure and make the shots she had to make. She definitely has grown from then to now.”
Alexandra Kaui, who will play collegiately at Oklahoma, said she hopes to make the cut next week, and would love to be the low amateur in the tournament, but is trying not to place extra pressure on herself. Instead, she’s trying to enjoy the moment.
“I’m getting excited,” Alexandra Kaui said. “I’m really feeling a good pressure. Not the kind of pressure where I feel like I can’t do it. The kind of pressure where I’ve got to get the job done.”
And qualifying for the Open already has convinced Alexandra Kaui that she has a future in professional golf.
“All my life it’s been my dream to become a professional and be on the LPGA Tour,” Alexandra Kaui said. “For me to get a chance to play with the best professionals on that tour is a really encouraging feeling. Not many people get to have this feeling ever in their life, especially at my age.”