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KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Picture a high school’s 30th anniversary class reunion, where at one table, grizzled gridiron veterans recount past glories from a game in which they hung up their helmets and pads decades ago.

Now, to another table, where a former three-time state golf champion, now 48, recounts the foursome he played just last weekend: “Man, I could not miss on Saturday! Shot an 89. Haven’t broken 90 in at least 12 years! Almost felt like I was in high school again.”

That’s what Matthew Duffy would like to be doing in another 30 years or so, still playing. The Kubasaki junior is poised and heavily favored to capture the Okinawa Activities Council’s island golf championship on Monday, having gone unbeaten the entire season.

A scratch golfer, he averages 40 over nine holes at Kadena’s Banyan Tree and Gushikawa’s Taiyo courses; his lowest score was a 39 earlier this season at Banyan, far better than teammates and Kadena foes. Over 18 holes, he averages 90 and has posted a round of 82 off base at Okinawa Country Club.

But more than competing with others, Duffy enjoys the individuality of a sport he can take with him and keep playing long after graduation next year.

“I take it as a lifetime sport, a hobby,” Duffy said Tuesday during practice at Banyan. “I’m not thinking professionally. I just want to enjoy the game.”

While Duffy tops the DODDS golf field on Okinawa, there is no Far East stage for him to showcase his skill on a Pacific level. Kubasaki and Kadena are the only two DODDS Pacific schools that play golf. Guam has a league, but its teams play in the fall.

Duffy says he would welcome a Far East, as would two DODDS golfers who attend Daegu junior Sarah Wright and senior Paul Jackson. They each play soccer as a spring sport.

Wright plays exclusively at the nine-hole Camp Walker golf course and averages 78 making two circuits. “She beats me every time we play,” Daegu athletics director Ken Walter said.

“I’m all by myself, playing myself, doing my own thing, doing what swings I choose to do,” said Wright, who began playing as a kindergartener in Daegu. “You don’t have a coach telling you what plays you should run.”

Jackson, dubbed “Tiger” because of his multiracial heritage, won the 2012 club championship. He began playing at age 8 in North Carolina and like Wright and Duffy, appreciates golf’s individuality. “You’re not having to rely on other people to finish plays for you. You’re making yourself better.”

While they have a shot at a Far East Division II soccer banner, Duffy will not, and says he would welcome that challenge, rather than battling the same Kadena foes over and over again. “It would be good to experience playing against other golfers,” he said.

Driggs argues in favor of the sport growing Pacific-wide, and perhaps a return to the days of the old invitational tournaments at Clark Air Base, Philippines, in the 1980s.

“It’s too bad we don’t have a Far East, not just the competitive side, but because it is a life sport,” he said. “It’s demanding. It’s a lot tougher than people think. But it’s something you can do for life, with family, friends, recreational. It should be a year-round activity and should be supported like other Far East activities.”

Duffy first took up golf while in the sixth grade. He played baseball as a child, and could have followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Patrick, a former Far East Division I Baseball Tournament MVP, but starting hitting a different type of ball, a smaller one, instead.

“I think golf fits me more than baseball,” he said. “I’d rather test my own skill. In golf, other people can’t affect you. You’re on your own.”

He takes lessons off post, and plays against adults as well as Kubasaki and Kadena players. He says the game equates to life in a lot of ways.

“You always have good days and bad days,” Duffy said. “When I have a bad day, I always want to come back and try again, right away. When I do well after that, I feel good, like I’m winning over myself. The self-challenge.”

Duffy carries a 3.5 grade-point average and says he plans to attend Asia-Pacific University in Kyushu. He’s fully bilingual, as is his brother.

“His game is starting to solidify,” longtime Kubasaki golf coach Robert Driggs said of Duffy. “The potential is there, if he sets his mind to it. He’s all around.”

Duffy, meanwhile, soldiers on, with the second day of the two-day island championship scheduled for Monday and his senior season next spring still to come. Should Duffy really catch the competitive edge and want to compete at a higher level someday, Driggs feels it’s not far-fetched to believe he can. “If it’s going to be, it’s up to him.”

ornauer.dave@stripes.com

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.
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