Comfortability key to Oda's island success
January 19, 2020
By Preston Smith, PGATOUR.COM
- January 19, 2020
- John Oda has gone T4-T4-T2 in his first three Bahamas starts on the Korn Ferry Tour. (Ben Jared/PGA TOUR)
John Oda – or “Joda” for short – was born in Honolulu and grew up on the island of Oahu. Everyone’s favorite tourist destination is a hot spot for golf, highlighted by the PGA TOUR’s Sony Open in Hawaii, but Hawaii is known for its beaches, surfing and tourist destinations. Unless you are John Oda.
“Growing up in Hawaii, it’s obviously very tourist-heavy in some areas and there are a ton of beautiful beaches there,” said Oda. “But I would only go to the beach maybe once a year or once every two to three years. My friends used to tease me about that, about living on an island and never going to the beach. But growing up I just wanted to play golf, you know?”
The commitment has paid off so far. Oda began his second full season on the Korn Ferry Tour last week in Exuma with a runner-up finish, extending a common theme thus far in his career: Oda is extremely comfortable with island golf.
Including last week’s finish, Oda has now gone T4-T4-T2 in his last three Korn Ferry Tour starts on islands (two in Exuma, one in Abaco). In an environment that challenges most, the 23-year-old has leaned on his upbringing to start each of the past two seasons with a bang.
“I think first, playing at sea level, that’s very important; I know how far the ball is going,” said Oda on his keys to island golf. “Second, there’s usually a lot of wind on islands, so controlling the trajectory, flighting shots and distance control, that’s all much tougher. Growing up in Hawaii, I think I have a natural feel for it. And the grass is very similar to what I grew up playing. This paspalum-sea grass is what I grew up on, so lots of familiarity for sure.”
Oda grew up learning from his dad, Jay, who picked it up from his grandfather, Richard (a United States World War II veteran). The routine was simple: from middle school on, Oda would head to nearby Pearl Country Club and hit the range for a few hours after school before playing twilight golf. On Saturdays, the Odas would drive up to the north shore and Turtle Bay, where they would spend all day at the short game area.
“Pearl had a range that was kind of into the wind and left-to-right, so I always played a bigger draw growing up,” said Oda. “But my dad and I would always try and find different winds to practice in. When I used to go to Turtle Bay (which is similar to Exuma as far as the grass and the inland nine on one side and oceanside on the other nine) I would practice a lot in right-to-left wind there. Years and years of playing and hitting shots in wind have built some comfortability for me.”
Comfortability on the golf course isn’t something a lot of players experienced in howling conditions last week in Exuma (the scoring average was the highest since the 2018 season). But for Oda, being comfortable off of the golf course is almost as important. Last year felt like a learning year, learning to travel, learning the golf courses, and so on.There's usually a lot of wind on islands ... growing up in Hawaii, I think I have a natural feel for it.
Oda attended UNLV for three years, all three as an All-American, before turning professional after his junior season. While there, he was paired as suitemates with Shota Takada, a soccer player, who became his full-time caddie this season.
“We’re the same age and both from Hawaii, but we didn’t meet until college,” said Oda. “We literally shared a bathroom together. And he had some interest in golf because he had played some when he was younger. We kind of rekindled his love of golf in college.”
Oda has already felt more relaxed this season and spoke to wanting to enjoy the ride more this season compared to last year when he was so dialed in to earning his card. Takada is a big part of that.
“I was getting clips from friends that were watching coverage this weekend, and a lot of times it was Shota and I just making jokes and cracking up,” said Oda. “Honestly just traveling around the world with your best friend is awesome. It’s a lot less stressful when you’re with your buddy. If you’re going to lose your bag, at least he’s going to be in the same boat!”
For a kid who grew up witnessing the likes of Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk and Ernie Els at the Sony Open in Hawaii, Oda has adapted his own island golf technique to the Korn Ferry Tour. This week he’ll look to make it four top-five finishes in a row on islands at The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic at Baha Mar.John Oda with his caddie/former college suitemate Shota Takada, circa 2014. (Contributed Photo)