Matsuoka a freshman phenom for CdM

It has been nearly five years since Corona del Mar High freshman Amy Matsuoka traded the balance beam for a bucket of golf balls.

Both gymnastics and golf can be sports where an inch makes a difference. Matsuoka was not seeing the results she wanted as she practiced for hours a day at the Gym-Max Academy of Gymnastics in Costa Mesa.

The gym has been in the news lately. Kyla Ross of Aliso Viejo, who won a gold medal at the London Olympics as a member of the U.S. women's gymnastics team, trains there. Fellow Olympian McKayla Mulroney of Long Beach also trained at Gym-Max for years before relocating.

Matsuoka kept training, but the best she could do was place third in an event at a small meet.

"She kind of got a little bit frustrated," said her father, Denis. "She finally said, 'Dad, I want to quit gymnastics, I want do something else.' She had already tried soccer, all these other sports.

"I said, 'How about golf?' And she goes, 'That sport is boring!'"

But Denis Matsuoka persisted. Just after she turned 10 years old, he took Amy to Newport Beach Golf Course and set her up with a bucket of balls. What resulted was one of those unforgettable moments.

"She had a natural swing, and she could hit the ball really well," Denis Matsuoka said. "She goes, 'I like this sport, dad!' Before I ruined her strokes, I decided to get her a coach. And she just took off."

Amy Matsuoka, the Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week, certainly did. At just 14, she has turned into a top junior girls' golfer. She made a big difference this year for Coach Mike Starkweather's CdM girls' golf team, a team that went 0-16 last year.

CdM improved to 7-7 this year and tied for third in the Pacific Coast League. Matsuoka medaled in 11 of the Sea Kings' 14 matches, and eight of 10 matches in league. She was named the league MVP.

But Matsuoka's season didn't end there. She shot a 79 at the CIF Southern Section Individual Final on Nov. 1 at Western Hills Country Club in Chino Hills. The score made the cut for Thursday's CIF Regional State Qualifier, and she was the only Newport-Mesa golfer to do so.

"I was really excited," Amy Matsuoka said, and you won't get many more words than that out of her. Just like there's not a lot of wasted motion in her golf stroke, there's not a lot wasted words when she talks.

Matsuoka's season did end Thursday, when she shot a 78 at The Golf Club at Rancho California in Murrieta. The cut was 72 to advance to the CIF State Championship.

But, to Starkweather, it was a very successful freshman year. He certainly holds Matsuoka in high regard. She was a leader for a CdM team with just one senior, Emily Turner.

"Amy is an amazing young lady," Starkweather said. "She's probably one of, if not the best, young golfers to come to Corona del Mar High School in the [18] years I've been there. She just has a great work ethic."

Making the cut at Western Hills wasn't easy. Matsuoka, who tied for 27th and had three birdies in her round, made it by just one stroke. Starkweather said it was a great feat considering the golfers played from the silver tees, which added about 400 yards to the course.

Matsuoka said she can drive the ball 220 yards, but she's still just 5-foot-1. On that day, however, she got the job done.

"My chipping was really good that day," she said. "I chipped it close to save par."

Amy Matsuoka said she couldn't imagine her freshman year going so well. But it makes sense. She put in work over the summer with her private coach, Mike McNary of Willowick Golf Course in Santa Ana.

Amy played a challenging junior golf tournament schedule. She won five Southern California PGA tournaments in two months, including the 23rd annual Costa Mesa City Championship tournament. She ranked second in the SCPGA summer rankings, despite playing in just eight tournaments. The first-place finisher, Kaitleen Shee of Diamond Bar, played in 30 tournaments.

Denis Matsuoka said his daughter has qualified for the Toyota Tour Cup a couple of years in a row. The next step is to qualify for national American Junior Golf Assn. tournaments. Matsuoka did play in one from July 30-Aug. 2, the Genesis Junior Championship at Sycuan Resort in El Cajon. She had to play a qualifying round to make the main draw, where she tied for 11th.

"These are the top girls in the nation," Denis Matsuoka said. "I was really proud of her ... she stepped up her game."

Someone who watches from a distance is Amy's older sister, former CdM tennis phenom Melissa Matsuoka. Melissa is now a junior for the Dartmouth College women's tennis team, and she's currently studying abroad in London.

"We're really close," Amy Matsuoka said of her relationship with Melissa, who helped CdM win four PCL girls' tennis titles and the 2006 CIF Southern Section Division 1 title.

Denis said his daughters will often Skype, or talk on Facebook. Both are respectful young women who are known for their sportsmanship.

"Melissa says as soon as she finishes up with tennis in college, she wants to learn golf," Denis Matsuoka said. "The thing is, I tried to get Melissa into golf, and [she said], 'That's boring, I don't want to play' ... It's funny how the mind kind of turns around."

Both daughters are tough.

Amy Matsuoka certainly has the drive to succeed in golf.

"She's got the best work ethic of the kids that I've coached," Starkweather said. "She works really, really hard. She's just truly an amazing golfer, and she's got three more years after this one. Keep your eye on her."

Twitter: @mjszabo


Amy Matsuoka

Born: Feb. 23, 1998

Hometown: Newport Beach

Height: 5-foot-1

Sport: Golf

Year: Freshman

Coach: Mike Starkweather

Favorite food: Mom's Chinese noodles and wontons

Favorite movie: "Dear John"

Favorite athletic moment: Winning the SCPGA Bridgestone Tournament of Champions, in August at Menifee Lakes Country Club.

Week in review: Matsuoka shot a seven-over-par 79 at the CIF Southern Section Individual Final on Nov. 1 at Western Hills Country Club. She tied for 27th and advanced to the CIF Regional State Qualifier.

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