Jim DeMello is always looking for committed local golfers. The University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo women’s golf coach, DeMello wants to provide opportunities for local players to continue their golf careers with his fledgling program.
The Vulcans first teed off in 2004, then watched as budget cuts threatened their existence a few years later. The entire time, Hilo had a small roster of four to five players.
“If there are girls out there who graduate from Hawaiʻi high schools who play golf, we are willing to accept them,” DeMello says. “I don’t care what they shoot because I know I can make them better, even if they come in averaging 85.”
Randi Ono is a testament to DeMello’s promise. In her final season of collegiate golf, Ono tied for first at the Southwest Minnesota State University Mustang Invitational in fall 2010.
“Randi Ono came out of Pearl City High School and her scoring average was 84; she left us scoring 77,” DeMello says. “She got better. She had the experience of playing college golf like everybody else. I don’t care what they shoot in high school. We’re trying to provide opportunities. Hopefully they take advantage of it.”
Ono’s victory was part of a remarkable fall season for the Vulcans. Teammate Dayna Bersamin finished one stroke behind Ono at the Mustang Invitational, helping the Vulcans finish second in the team standings. Several weeks later, the Vulcans captured the team title at the Culturame Classic in Oregon with Bersamin winning the individual title. In November, Hilo finished second at its Dennis Rose Intercollegiate held at Waikoloa. Nicole Aoki, a Waiākea High graduate, placed second, one shot behind the top finisher.
“This past fall season was a great learning experience for me,” Ono says via email. “I developed as a golfer and athlete as well as a person. I learned more about my game and what I was capable of doing. I was blessed to have a great workout and conditioning regimen that helped my body to play to the best of my abilities and also had a lot of help on my mental game.”
Adds Bersamin, a sophomore from Wailuku and Baldwin High graduate: “We were really excited, especially for Randi because it was her last semester. I didn’t expect to do well as I did. Coach really pushed us and we changed our workouts. I guess that helped us in tournaments.”
Based on his team’s fall performance, DeMello predicted a top-10 regional spot in the spring ranking that determines which teams qualify for postseason play. “I was optimistic we could qualify for regionals,” he recalls.
Then spring season started in February, and the team couldn’t get out of the rough. Without No. 2 golfer and team leader Ono, the Vulcans placed 7th, 10th and 18th in three tournaments featuring regional foes. Bersamin, the team’s top golfer, and Aoki played through injuries. Their teammates were freshmen.
“Our team wasn’t 100 percent and we couldn’t perform as well as we wanted to,” says Bersamin. “Hopefully we’ll do better.”
The Vulcan men’s success—the team won the Pacific West Conference championship and made it to nationals in spring 2011—inspired the women’s team to work harder over the summer. “Our main goal right now is to make it to regionals. Hopefully we can make it and make it to nationals like the boys,” Bersamin says.
The incoming class includes a golfer from Mililani and another from the Philippines. DeMello, who doubles as the athletics program’s associate director and compliance officer, works hard to recruit players from the state’s strong youth and high school programs. In 37 years, he has watched UH Hilo grow into an academically demanding school, he tells them. He points to the new pharmacy and computer science programs and touts the fact that every single UH Hilo golfer has graduated.
During high school, Ono had struggled with her game and wasn’t sure she wanted to continue playing golf in college. She’s glad DeMello convinced her to challenge herself.
“Even if you don’t want to pursue golf as a profession, college golf can provide you with a college education and open many doors to your future through the people you meet and play with,” she says. “Playing golf while in college not only develops your skills as a golfer, but it can definitely build character and life skills for your future.”