Jennifer Koga did not have a fall season of tournament golf for the Sacramento State women’s team due to the Big Sky Conference last August announcing the postponement of all competition to the spring of 2021 because of “ongoing concerns related to the COVID-19 global pandemic.”
Fortunately, Koga was able to continue with golf – practicing and playing, getting in her rounds, working on all parts of her game, keeping sharp and on top of everything in advance of the season starting in February.
“I was able to explore different shots and get advice from the coaches,” said Koga. “I would try them out, the things I can do and get to work on, and take them out on the course. I was able to learn a lot.”
Koga, who is from Honolulu, Hawaii, had a sensational start to her freshman season for Sacramento State.
She shot a spectacular 9-under-par 63 during a practice round last October at Del Paso Country Club, one of the courses in the area that the Hornets play at. Koga had 10 birdies – including a stretch of five holes in a row, Nos. 13-17 – during her round.
“Jennifer’s been a really good player for a long time,” said Sacramento State coach David Sutherland. “I’m very fortunate to have been able to recruit her and have her want to be a part of our program.
“She’s real talented. She’s very good at managing her game. She hits the ball very straight. She is consistent with the way she flights her golf ball, hitting it up in the air and high and landing it soft. And she’s just a terrific chipper and putter.
“I feel like she makes the game look easy by just hitting it in the fairway, knock it on the green. But beyond that, she’s also a very delightful young woman. She has an easy smile and very quiet confidence about her that has been really good for our program.”
Koga had a standout first season of college golf for Sacramento State, which won the Big Sky Championship and finished 13th at the NCAA’s Stanford Regional.
Koga was named as both the Big Sky Conference Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year. She was also named first-team on the 2021 Big Sky All-Conference Team.
“She’s got a great, natural confidence in herself and in her golf game,” said Sutherland, a former PGA Tour player, who was named as the 2021 Big Sky Jeff Smith Coach of the Year. “Honestly, I feel like I can almost have her help me with my own golf game.”
Koga played in all seven of the spring tournaments for Sacramento State.
A look at her finishes:
- Tied for 16th place (78-76-74 – 228) at The Gold Rush, the season-opening tournament in February at Old Ranch County Club in Seal Beach, Calif. Sacramento tied for fifth place in a field of 11 teams.
- Tied for fifth place (71-68-70 – 209) at The Gunrock Invitational in March at Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento. The Hornets finished second in the 11-team field.
- Tied for third place (70-75-73 – 218) at the Juli Inkster Meadow Club Invitational in March in Fairfax (Marin County). The Hornets finished sixth in the 12-team field.
- Tied for sixth place (74-75-71 – 220) at the Red Rocks Invitational in March at Oakcreek Country Club in Sedona, Arizona. Sacramento was sixth in the field of 19 teams.
- Tied for seventh (72-75-68 – 215) in April at the Fresno State Classic, played at Copper River Country Club. Sacramento was fourth in a field of 15 teams.
- Tied for 26th (80-78-76 – 234) at the Big Sky Championship in April at Arrowhead Golf Course in Molalla, Oregon. The Hornets won the team title – their third Big Sky title in four years. Eleven teams were on the field.
- Tied for 45th (76-73-72 – 221) in May at the NCAA Stanford Regional, played at Stanford Golf Course. The Hornets placed 13th among 18 teams.
The future is bright for Koga, Sutherland said, adding that he would like to see her work on hitting long bunker shots, executing trouble shots, such as in areas where there are trees, and also focusing on her short game.
“I would like to see Jennifer expand on her creativity on the greens,” said Sutherland. “This really is about just maximizing her game.”
It was an outstanding season, overall, for Koga, as she had four straight Top-10 finishes during the season and a conference-low 72.67 scoring average.
“I think it was a successful year,” said Koga, 19. “It’s my first time being on a team – that’s very exciting. The support that is there is really a great thing.
“I came into the third round (of tournaments) with the determination to be in the Top-10. I am quite proud of the results of the majority of the tournaments. The goal that I had, at the beginning of this year, was to finish in the Top-10. I am happy that I was able to perform that way. I am pretty confident in the skill sets that I have.
“I’m also proud of how I was able to keep up the consistent scores. That is something I struggled with when I was a junior golfer. I am able to consistently play and progressively get better throughout the round. I just hope that I can do the same next year.” According to Sacramento State Athletics, at www.hornetsports.com:
- Koga’s 73.57 overall scoring average ranks fifth in single-season school history.
- Koga’s four Top-10 finishes during the year is tied for sixth in school history.
- Koga is only the third player in the history of the Big Sky to be selected as both the conference Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year.
- Koga’s lowest 54-hole score of 209 is No. 4 all-time in Sacramento State history.
From a golfing family
Koga, who was born in Kahului, Maui, Hawaii, is from a golfing family.
It was her father, Yukio Koga, who got her into golf, teaching Jennifer about the game and the swing. She has learned so much about golf from her dad.
Jennifer’s older sister, Eimi Koga, played college golf for the University of Washington. As a sophomore (2014-15), Eimi had five Top-10 finishes and tied for 38th place at the season-ending NCAA Championships. Eimi was also named Pac-12 All-Academic Honorable Mention.
As a junior golfer, Eimi placed third at the 2011 and 2012 Callaway Junior World Championship and tied for 15th place at the Junior PGA Championship in 2011.
“My older sister was playing for much longer than me when I was little. I was watching her and my dad at the golf course a lot. I slowly started to get into it because I was at the golf course,” said Jennifer.
Jennifer’s younger sister, Ashley Koga, is a junior golfer and plays high school golf.
Jennifer attended high school at Laurel Springs School in Honolulu.
She had several top finishes and performances as a junior, including:
- Sixth place at the Junior World in 2016.
- 17th place at the Junior World in 2017.
- Wins at the New Jersey Junior PGA in 2018, Oahu Junior in 2019, and a U.S. Girls qualifier in 2018.
- Advancing to match play at the U.S. Girls Junior in 2015 and 2019.
Home for the summer
Jennifer Koga returned home to Honolulu for the summer. She is planning to work on her game at her home course, Honolulu Country Club, and is planning to play in a few tournaments.
“I need to work on my drives. I want to get more distance because that will definitely helped me in tournaments,” she said.
“I just like being able to develop my skill sets. I just hope that I can play as confidently as I am right now. And if I can improve, that will be much better.”
Koga is planning to major in environmental sciences and is looking forward to her sophomore season for Sacramento State starting in the fall.
“I’m very excited for the next few years. Freshman year, I didn’t get to experience everything that we usually would do in a program, like the fall tournaments and team outings and trips and all that. So I’m looking forward to that.
“I’m always excited to play tournaments because I just love to see where I am at and how well I can do against other people.”
* 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.