Young golf champion: 10-year-old Saito qualifies for the Drive Chip Putt tournament at Augusta National

by | Oct 6, 2021 | Driving Ranges

Misaki Saito believes that her son Leo’s golfing success can be attributed to Tiger’s hat.

The 10 year old St. Joseph student doesn’t wear a red shirt like Tiger Woods, his favorite golfer, but he does enjoy wearing the Tiger logo hats.

About a week ago in Hualalai, Saito became the first boy from Hawaii to qualify for the 8th annual Drive Chip Putt National Finals at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, where the championship will be played a few days before the Masters in April 2022.

“I felt happy. It is the first time that I go to Augusta National,” said Leo. “I concentrated more than when I was training. I was really nervous. My coach (Troy Sato) told me to do that Hit the ball higher. “

The court was wet so the ball didn’t roll. But Leo’s success and the qualifying trip to the home of the Masters still leave Misaki in disbelief.

“I didn’t know he was the first Hawaiian boy to qualify,” she said. “It feels like a dream. When we see the Masters I imagine he will be there. My parents (Seisaku and Mihoko Sato) in Japan are so happy. They love to watch him play golf. They are great supporters of Leo. “

Misaki asked Leo if he wanted to try different sports, but he refused any. When he was growing up playing golf three years ago, Leo chose to play because his mother had started playing golf.

One day they met golf trainer Troy Sato on the Hilo Muni driving range and started taking lessons.

“He’s so nice to the kids and works well with them,” Misaki said.

Sato knows that defeating tens of thousands of children in a challenging process is a great achievement for Leo.

“There are so many steps. The big qualification was in Hualalai. The state was in Kapolei, ”said Sato. “There are tens of thousands of children for the nation-state. They’ll break it down to 10 in each age group. Children from all over the country are trying to do this.

“This is his first year playing tournaments because of Covid. I knew he was strong, but I couldn’t compare him to anyone. He went to the Junior World Championship at the Pearl Country Club and almost won a medal. The top 5 medal. He had three bogeys on the second nine and finished eighth.

“He won the US children’s tournament with a 3-under 69. So he’s a strong boy. Being the first boy to make a Hawaii citizen is big and good for golfing. The numbers have been falling but it’s back on track. It’s good for everyone. “

Tiger Hat may inspire Leo, but only practice can sharpen a game of golf. Somewhere, Allen Iverson is complaining about the practice. But Leo practices three to four hours six days a week. He practically takes himself off on Sunday. He’ll play a little golf and then rest.

Leo’s has three wins in the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association county. But Misaki attributes this winning streak to Tiger’s hat.

“We went to the IMG in San Diego and found a Tiger Woods hat,” she said. “Then he started winning. Golf is expensive to fly anywhere. I have my thanks to my husband, Syuck Ki Saito, and his mother, BJ Saito. She helps our family a lot while we are busy with tournaments. “

Leo’s 9-year-old brother Lenny also takes up the family sport.

Leo’s favorite foods are sushi and mom’s pork tonkatsu.

Misaki hasn’t seen her parents since January 2020, so she’s hoping to hug her in Augusta.

“Maybe my parents can come from Japan,” she said. “You introduced us to golf. It is a good present for her. It’s different than watching the PGA Tour on TV. Her own grandson plays there. “

Leo’s next tournament is the HSJGA Michelle Wie Championship in December on Maui, where he will undoubtedly wear a TW hat.