- Honolulu Star-Advertiser
- 26 Feb 2015
- By Ann Miller Special to the Star-Advertiser
Kop, who turns 80 in July, takes no pills and quite possibly has gone 79-plus years without losing his temper. His 5-foot-4 frame has never supported more than 140 pounds. He complains of no aches, pains or gray hairs and his only regret might be that he can’t hit the golf ball just a wee bit farther.
He joined legendary teacher and player Guinea Kop in the Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame in 1994, becoming the first father-son inductees. Wendell’s nephew Brandan came in 14 years later.
All created hall of fame credentials by killing people with their short game — and kindness — but all are originals.
Wendell might be the greatest athlete of the gifted bunch. He is absolutely the most versatile.
He is still a scratch golfer and competes in senior, A and B flights locally. He also travels to the mainland a few times a year to play in the invitation-only Society of Seniors stops. The amateur organization for golfers 55older has more than 900 members, including every living U.S. Senior Amateur champion and hundreds more USGA winners and national qualifiers. This year, there are 53 tournaments on the schedule.
“When I used to play USGA tournaments I met these guys when we were in our 20s and 30s,” Kop says. “We all remember each other and we keep on competing. … The senior amateur tour has become really popular over the last 15-20 years.
“You’ve got be a survivor, don’t have aches. Along the way guys drop out because they can’t swing a golf club anymore, but a few of us still compete. There are maybe 15 or 20 in our age bracket.”
Kop’s resume includes two State Amateur championships and four more State Senior Amateur titles, along with fists full of Super Senior and low amateur wins. He has played in 12 USGA Public Links national championships and 12 more USGA Senior amateurs and opens.
Thirty years ago Kop was Kyle Suppa — the lone little amateur in the Hawaiian Open — in the midst of a streak that saw him making the Burns Cup amateur team 16 times in 17 years.
That was also when he turned 50 and found skiing, his third passion after golf and Melba “Bobbie” Leong, his wife of 61 years. They met when she was at Sacred Hearts and he was across the street at Saint Louis, playing on the golf team with Ted Makalena — the first Hawaii golfer to win the Hawaiian Open.
“We never won a state championship,” Wendell laughs.
No regrets. Golf has helped him live a great and exceptionally healthy and happy life. Over the last 30 years, skiing has only enhanced it. He goes as much as he can from December to March, taking a break from golf.
“Skiing is very enjoyable,” Kop says. “It’s relaxing in the mountains and you can enjoy the view. It’s all nice and white, cold but very nice. You calm yourself and it can be very peaceful.”
Bobbie, who doesn’t watch him golf because “she would be bored,” was also a skier until she hurt her back a few years ago. She still goes with him to walk up the ski hill in the afternoon and enjoy the scenery. They like Steamboat in Colorado, but have also skied in Japan, Canada, New Zealand and at other mainland resorts.
Wendell has no thoughts of slowing down, literally or figuratively. “As long as I don’t hit a tree,” he says, “I’m OK.”
The couple also walks together “to keep on moving” and he takes yoga twice a week.
“Just so the body is loose,” he says. “The idea is to keep on moving so you don’t get frozen. Yoga helps.”
Kop earned degrees in chemistry and engineering from the University of Hawaii. He retired in 1998 after working as a civil engineer for the state. While he was a working man he ran, finishing those three marathons before he was 40.
“I decided to quit while I’m ahead,” he said. “I lost a lot of weight when I was running and I don’t hit the ball very far anyway.
“Then I did roughwater. That was hard work. Swimming is a lonely sport. You can’t talk to anybody. But it was a good experience. When you know you can swim over an hour you can go anyplace in the ocean and feel good about always making it to shore.”
Still, he finds golf the most challenging because it features “a lot of concentration and frustration.” It is also where his most memorable athletic accomplishment occured.
In 1975, Kop, David Ishii and Allan Yamamoto won the Harding Cup in the U.S. Public Links national championship at Wailua. The Cup is a state team championship staged during the two qualifying rounds. Ishii and Yamamoto were comedalists, but all three scores count both days so Kop was no slouch.
“Harding Cup was very memorable,” Kop says. “The years have gone by and all of us made the Hall of Fame. When you look back, it’s nice to see we did that.”
This Friday, Kop will join in the Aloha Hawaii Public Links Championship, a celebration of Hawaii’s memorable history at the event, which ended in 2014 after 89 years.
On March 18, there will be the Guinea Kop Memorial, a fundraiser for Oahu Junior Golf Association., which might be where the next Wendell Kop — or Guinea or Brandan — will be found.
“The junior golf program now is terrific,” Kop says. “They are good when they are 12 years old, so accurate, their swing is so good, their game is so good. They are trained, they are serious. They’ve got to be serious now, their parents are with them.”
His dad would be proud.
Skiing is very enjoyable. It’s relaxing in the mountains and you can enjoy the view. It’s all nice and white, cold but very nice. You calm yourself and it can be very peaceful.”