SportStars Magazine

July Cover Story: The Ty That Drives

In Less Than 10 Years, Danville’s Ty Akabane Went From Plastic Snoopy Clubs To Cracking The Field Of The U.S. Women’s Open •

Story by MIKE WOOD | Photos by SAMUEL STRINGER

Ty Akabane had to wait. That happens a lot in the sport of golf. What happened next, doesn’t.

Having posted her 36-hole score before approximately half of the rest of the field at a June 5 U.S. Women’s Open qualifier. Akabane had to watch the scoreboard at Lake Merced Golf Club with growing restlessness — there were only two qualifying spots up for grabs.

She became antsy, but then the news finally broke: she was going to play in the women’s golf’s national championship, the oldest of the women’s majors, with a purse of $5 million.

“When I found out, it was just so cool. It just didn’t feel like it actually happened,” she said. “’What? Really? I’m going to the Open?’”

Akabane, 16, who will be a junior this fall at San Ramon Valley High-Danville, is playing in the U.S. Women’s Open Golf Championship at Trump National Golf Club from July 13-16. Interviewed shortly before leaving for Bedminster, N.J., and the Open, Akabane bubbled with enthusiasm while displaying considerable humbleness and gratitude.

“It’s been a goal of mine to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open ever since I was a little girl,” Akabane said. “That’s been the pinnacle of golf. All these great people have played in it. To be able to play in it is so humbling.”

The ‘wow’ factor extended to her parents, who have been supportive throughout Ty’s burgeoning career. They have had a front-row view of Ty’s successes, but this was a roof-raiser for them.

“We were shocked,” said her mother, Paige. Added father Chris: “This was unexpected. There are so many top players and veterans trying to make it.”

Akabane’s whirlwind summer took off right after school ended. After her last final exam on Friday, June 2, she was in Daly City in the grueling 36-hole sectional qualifier the following Monday. Her qualifying score was a 4-over-par 148 with two steady rounds of 74. Former Alameda High and Cal player Emily Childs was the other qualifier at Lake Merced with a 144.

“I actually played with Emily at the U.S. Open qualifier two years ago, and we had a great time playing 36 holes at Serrano Country Club in Sacramento,” Akabane said. “I got to know her pretty well and got to learn about her college experience. She’s a great person and it was really awesome getting a chance to meet her. Now it’s so cool that we played together and we both qualified to go to the Open. … It’s a dream come true.”

It’s come true thanks to hard work and practice. Akabane puts in time at The Bridges Golf Club in San Ramon and at Castlewood Country Club in Pleasanton. For two years she has been part of Castlewood’s Junior Merit program, a merit scholarship awarded on golf, academics and giving back to community. With help from her mother, Akabane has developed a Friday mini-clinic for anywhere from 5-10 developing Junior golfers.

“Ty works very hard at her game, as we see her out here a lot at practice,” Castlewood assistant golf pro Kevin Chen said. “She is very focused, does well in the classroom and finds time to mentor our Juniors. Her attitude is very remarkable; always smiling, very courteous.”

Right after qualifying for the Open, Akabane emailed Castlewood head pro Brett Faulkner and Chen a letter of appreciation.

“We are super happy for her,” Chen said. “I know she has had great success at the Junior level, but achieving something like this is a whole other stage. I knew her game was there.”

Akabane, who cites driving, bunkers and putting as strong suits in her game, has a bit of quirk: she is a left-hander in every way, except she plays golf right-handed.

“It just happened naturally,” she said. “I throw a ball left-handed. I kick with my left foot. I write with my left hand, but I do golf right. I just happened to pick up the club that way.”

Akabane has grown up in a family immersed in golf. Her younger brother Kai, 13, plays on the team at Charlotte Wood Middle School in Danville. She also played middle school golf — and will play her third year with the San Ramon Valley team this fall. Her interest began when she was 6.

“I used to hit golf balls across the street and we had this big hill across our house and my dad got me these plastic clubs — they were like Snoopy clubs with Peanuts characters on them,” she said. “I’d always try to hit the ball as far as I could and measure how far I’d hit on the hill and try to hit higher each time.”

By age 8, she was going to events like the Junior World Championships in San Diego.

Her rapid rise has allowed her to meet famous individuals. When visiting Hawaii a few years ago, she was playing with her uncles and father at Luana Hills in Oahu. Suddenly she noticed several men in black suits and sunglasses “all looking super professional” along with what she described as a herd of golf carts.

“Then we saw President Barack Obama and he’s like “Hey you guys, how are you?” We gave him a high-five when he was passing by.”

She’s met NFL legend Jerry Rice twice. And there was a chance meeting with one of the sport’s top young pros at the LPGA Kia Classic Qualifying event earlier this year, which she took part in after being a medalist at a pre-qualifier.

“The putting green was so crowded and I was putting with this pro and at first I didn’t realize who it was,” she said. “I was getting her golf ball and she was getting mine. And my dad came over and said ‘You are playing with Yani Tseng.’ And I looked up and was star-struck.”

Colleges she’s considering include Cal, Oregon, Princeton and UCLA, her father said.

There’s two years of high school before then. She treasures playing with her Wolves teammates. Together they went to the NCS Tournament of Champions both years as a team. Her freshman year, Akabane qualified for NorCals but withdrew due to a biceps injury. As a sophomore, she finished NorCals in a three-way tie for first at The Club at Crazy Horse Ranch in Salinas and played in the state championships at Red Hill Country Club in Rancho Cucamonga.

“We are always there supporting each other, even if it’s not the outcome we wanted or we don’t win a match,” she said of her Wolves teammates. “It’s all right, we’re still like a big family.”

For now, it’s about the U.S. Open and the special atmosphere to be soaked up. She is vying with many experienced Open players to make the cut from 156 to 60.

“One of my goals is that it would be completely awesome to qualify and make the cut and get the full tournament experience,” Akabane said.

“To qualify (to go the Open) was a huge accomplishment for me; something that I am very humbled and proud of. It would be awesome to make the cut, but to just have the experience of seeing the best go at it, to practice and learn from them … that is going to be an amazing experience in itself.”

One Comment

  1. The Chin Family (Al, Em & Alex)

    July 13, 2017 at 7:32 pm

    Looks like we’re going to have to get your autograph here soon, Ty!!! Congratulations to a lovely young lady and an excellent ambassador for the game. We’re so happy for you!

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