Jennifer Koga calls it her summer routine. Every day, around 2 p.m., she leaves her home and heads to the Honolulu Country Club. Koga, named as the Big Sky Conference Player of the Year for the second year in a row for the Sacramento State women’s golf team, spends anywhere from 3 to 5 hours working on her game – hitting balls on the driving range, going out to the golf course and playing a few holes, doing all she can to keep her swing sharp and consistent.
“In the summertime, my practice times get a little longer, because the sun’s out longer,” Koga said in a telephone interview from her home in Honolulu. Her day at the course generally ends around sunset. It’s a practice schedule that she takes great pride in, one that is founded on discipline and dedication. “It’s very important to go out on to the course, because everyone can hit it straight on the range. And not everyone can hit it straight on the course,” said Koga. “It’s something that I’ve grown used to. If anything, I feel worse if I like don’t go out of my home, because then I feel like I’m not doing enough. It’s kind of like my every-day life now. Everybody who asks me, ‘What are you up to today?’ I just say the same as usual.”
Koga, who was also selected first-team All-Big Sky in April as a sophomore, not only spends time on all areas of her game at practice. She is also working on becoming stronger, as she continues to prepare for the fall and her junior season for the Hornets.
“I’m working out a bit more, because I have a good amount of technique, but I don’t have a lot of power and I don’t really fly it as far,” said Koga. “But that’s not really a disadvantage to me really, because my strengths come in my putting and my chipping, my short game area. So, I want to focus mainly on that, just strengthening what I’m already strong at. And boosting whatever I’m not good at, which is my driver distance.”
The work that Koga puts in each day continues as she goes out to the course at Honolulu Country Club, which was designed by Arnold Palmer and Francis Duane. According to its website, honolulucountryclub.com: “From the tips it presents the expert with a fair and interesting test, and from the regular tees offers a friendly challenge to the average player. Designed in the classic style of golf architecture, the course favors precision over length, with water the frequent result of wayward shots. The Club’s prime location in the flatland between Moanalua Valley and the ocean means soft, pleasant breezes and superb weather virtually every day of the year.”
It’s during her time on the course, a par-72 layout, where Koga focuses on her accuracy, as she plays anywhere from 3 to 5 holes, hitting multiple balls on each hole. “It’s not a super long course and it’s not super hilly, but it’s very windy. It’s kind of tricky with all the water and how the course is laid out,” Koga said of the private club.
Summer golf in Hawaii
Koga played in the 113th Manoa Cup, held June 20-25 at Oahu Country Club. The event, conducted by the Hawaii State Golf Association, is the Hawaii State Amateur Match Play Championship. She advanced to the Round of 16 after shooting a 2-over-par 75 and finishing 11th in the women’s qualifying round. She lost to Alison Takamiya of Honolulu, 2 and 1, in the first round of match play.
Koga is planning to play in a qualifier for the 2022 U.S. Women’s Amateur, a U.S. Golf Association event, on Monday, July 17 at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu. The qualifier is conducted by the Hawaii State Golf Association. Waialae Country Club is the host of the Sony Open in Hawaii, a PGA Tour event. Qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Amateur will be held at 25 sites between June 22 and July 19, the USGA said. The U.S. Women’s Amateur, which will have a field of 156 players, is August 8-14 at Chambers Bay, University Place, Wash. It’s open to any female amateur whose Handicap Index does not exceed 5.4, the USGA said.
Big year of golf for Sacramento State
According to www.hornetsports.com, Koga:
- Ranks second all-time at Sacramento State with a career scoring average of 73.36.
- Ranks tied for fourth with 10 career top-10 finishes and is seventh with 18 rounds at or below par.
- Owns seven career rounds in the 60s, which places her tied for second place in school history.
Koga added to her list of school achievements this past season, during which, according to www.hornetsports.com:
- Her first-round scoring average of 72.6 is now the best in school history.
- She led the Hornets in seven of 10 tournaments, setting the program record for a single season.
- Her 11 rounds at or below par is now tied for fourth in school history.
- Her seven career rounds in the 60s ranks her tied for second in school history.
“Jennifer has just an elegant golf game,” said Sacramento State head coach David Sutherland. “She is extremely intelligent in the way that she plays golf. She has a wonderful comfort level and belief in herself that is just really awesome to be around. I am very thankful that she is a part of our program. There’s no question that her strength is her overall consistency. As a golfer, she has just a ton of top-10 finishes in her two years, and against all different fields. I think by far, that’s what has allowed her to have all these achievements. Jennifer does have very much her own style and sort of vibe to her golf game that she’s very comfortable in. Sutherland added that Koga has an additional strength when it comes to the mental part of golf. She’s really, really mentally good. She is somebody that is really intelligent with her golf game,” said Sutherland.
As a freshman, Koga became only the third player in Big Sky history to be selected as both the conference Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year. In addition, she was also named first-team All-Big Sky. Furthermore, Koga’s 73.57 scoring average put her fifth in single-season school history. She also had four top-10 finishes.
“Last year, picking up the Freshman of the Year and the Player of the Year award, that kind of like set a standard for myself. I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got to do this again. I can’t just like peak in freshman year.’ I was really trying to produce good scores,” said Koga.
Koga said her goal for every tournament is to try and finish in the top 10. She had an outstanding year, with eight top-20 finishes. She had a school-record six top-10s during the year, according to www.hornetsports.com. In her last two tournaments of the spring season, Koga took second place at the Big Sky Championships, shooting 68-76-72 – 216, at Talking Stick Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, and tied for 58th place at the NCAA Stanford Regional, shooting 76-77-80 – 233 at Stanford Golf Course.
“The last two tournaments I played, which is conference and the regionals, I wasn’t really happy with how I performed,” she pointed out. “I felt like I could have performed better, even though I was still happy that I got second place in conference and I was able to make it to regionals. I was very thankful to get the opportunity to play there. But hopefully, next year, I can keep my energy all the way to the end. I kind of burnt out at the end. That’s kind of what happened. I think it was physical. I was getting very tired after traveling week after week. Definitely that and inconsistent with my basic components of my swing. I kind of was like trying to work on other things instead of focusing on basics, and then it kind of like fell apart there.”
Koga said she enjoys playing on the Sacramento State team, which is led by Sutherland, who played 17 years on the PGA Tour. Sutherland was named as the Big Sky Coach of the Year in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
“It’s been very fun playing in college. I had never really played on a team before coming to Sac State. So, it was a really new experience, having teammates, getting to know more people, and sharing the same passion,” said Koga, who is majoring in environmental studies. “This year was extremely fun. I think all of our girls are very talented. It really helps me bring out my best, too.”
Koga placed in 11 tournaments during the year for Sacramento State:
- Tied for seventh at the Coeur d’Alene Collegiate, at Coeur d’Alene Golf Resort, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
- Tied for 11th at The Molly Collegiate, at Seaside, Calif., Bayonet and Blackhorse golf courses.
- Tied for 11th at the Evie Odom Invitational, at Princess Anne Country Club, Virginia Beach, Va.
- Tied for 10th at the Clash at Boulder Creek, at Boulder Creek Golf Club, Boulder City, Nev.
- Tied for 35th at the Gunrock Invitational, at Del Paso Country Club, Sacramento.
- Tied for sixth at the Dr. Donnis Thompson Invitational, at Hoakalei Country Club, Ewa Beach, Hawaii.
- Tied for seventh at the Fresno State Classic, at Belmont Country Club, Fresno.
- Tied for seventh at the Brickyard Collegiate, at Brickyard Golf Club, Macon, Georgia.
- Tied for 24th at the Seattle Redhawk Invitational, at Chambers Bay, University Place, Washington.
- Second at the Big Sky Championship, at Talking Stick Golf Club, Scottsdale, Arizona.
- Tied for 58th at the NCAA Stanford Regional, at Stanford Golf Course, Stanford, Calif.
- Koga’s 73.21 scoring average in 29 rounds led the Hornets and also ranks third in school history, according to www.hornetsports.com.
Koga’s 72.6 first-round scoring average is the best in school history, according to www.hornetsports.com. Her eight top-20 finishes rank Koga tied for second most by a Sac State player in a single year, according to www.hornetsports.com.
“I’ve had quite a few really great players in our program. Jennifer’s absolutely one of them – at the top of that list,” said Sutherland. “All of them have been wonderful to be around. And so, we’re obviously doing something right. We have a good program here. The wonderful thing for a kid like Jennifer is that she is pushed and challenged every day by her teammates – not to be the best player in the conference, but just to be the best player on this team. There’s quite a few kids on the team that challenge her, and she challenges them as well. So, having that within the confines of a positive environment is really what’s most important to me.” Koga gets a lot of help on her game from Sutherland, who registered eight top-10 and 32 top-25 finishes during his career on the PGA Tour. He helps me with my mental game, my confidence on the course. He reminds me what aspects I should work on. So that’s extremely helpful for me. He’s a really good friend and a really good coach. And I really appreciate the things that he does for our team,” said Koga.
Sutherland pointed out that Koga has a terrific short game. “I think without a doubt, it’s as good of a short game is I’ve seen since I’ve been coaching. Fifty yards and in, she’s really, really good. Good putter.”
Sacramento State finished in second place at the Big Sky Championships at Talking Stick Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., in April. The Sacramento State team practices and plays during the year at the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex, Del Paso Country Club, Ancil Hoffman Golf Course in Carmichael, and Valley Hi Country Club in Elk Grove.
Marty James is a freelance writer who makes his home in Napa. He retired on June 4, 2019, after spending 40 years as a sports writer, sports editor and executive sports editor for the Napa Valley Register, a daily newspaper in Napa County. He is a 1979 graduate of Sacramento State and a member of the California Golf Writers & Broadcasters Association. He was inducted into the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame in 2016.