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For the love of the game

Akio Sadakata lives for golf, and his devotion is paying off with success in the amateur ranks.

Akio Sadakata is to golf what a gym rat is to basketball.

He loves to chip, pitch, putt, drive and anything else you can think of doing on a practice tee _ every day for hours and hours.

And if he isn't practicing, he's playing.

To some it may look like he's grinding with the way he bears down. But that's not the way it is. In every sense, golf is a game to Sadakata.

If his ball ends up as a fried egg in a bunker close to the pin, he relishes the challenge of splashing it out. If he has a downhill, snaking putt on a green as fast as glass, he can't wait to hit it. And if the rough is high and the fairways are thin, as they were during the second round of a U.S. Open sectional qualifier in Ohio, then so much the better.

"I do like everything about the game," Sadakata said. "I am always happy to be on a golf course."

Especially now.

At no time in his 20 years has Sadakata, a 1998 Chamberlain High graduate and former high school state champion, played better.

In the past few months, Sadakata, a sophomore at Brevard Community College, has:

+ Won the Florida State Amateur title by eight shots. He fired rounds of 67-69-69-72_277, an 11-under-par total at Orlando's Lake Nona Golf Club. A week later he was featured in Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd."

+ Finished fourth at the National Junior College Championships in Alabama.

+ Shot 2-under 70 at World Woods Golf Club in May and advanced to a U.S. Open sectional qualifier in Ohio before slipping out of contention.

+ Won the U.S. Amateur qualifier last weekend at Black Bear Golf Club in Eustis with 7-under-par 71-66_137. The victory earned him a trip to the U.S. Amateur Aug. 16-22 at Pebble Beach Golf Links.

"I am playing better but I haven't changed too much with my game," Sadakata said. "My swing is the same and my clubs are the same as they were in high school. My putting is better, but more than anything I think I have just gained more confidence.

"I had a few good rounds toward the end of the school year and that gave me a lot of confidence."

Sadakata, who moved from Japan when he was 15 to stay with fellow golfer Ryuji Imada and Tampa golf pro Rich Abele, has not grown much since he left high school. That puts him at about 5 feet 10, 150 pounds. He has, however, gotten stronger (from lifting weights) and has become more fit (running more than 20 miles a week).

"I do these things so I will never get tired later in a round," Sadakata said. "It helps me to be the best I can be."

The ultimate goal is to reach the PGA Tour and make a living playing the game he loves.

"I don't see why he couldn't make it to the tour someday," Chamberlain golf coach Frank George said. "He has a great swing and short game and a great putting stroke. But the best thing he has is a love for the game. As soon as the school day ended at Chamberlain, Akio would go straight to the golf course, and he did that every day.

"You know, I hope he does make it, because Akio is just about the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet. He always had fun out there and that was a pleasure to watch."

The Sadakata File

NAME: Akio Sadakata.

AGE: 20.

HOMETOWN: Nara, Japan.

EDUCATION: Tampa Chamberlain graduate (1998), currently a sophomore at Brevard Community College.

NOTES: Moved to Tampa when he was 15 to join fellow accomplished golfer Ryuji Imada and golf pro Rich Abele. Won state individual high school title in 1998. Qualified for U.S. Amateur in 1996. Won 1999 Florida state amateur by eight shots, shooting 11-under par over four days at Orlando's Lake Nona Golf Club. Qualified for U.S. Amateur over the weekend with 7-under-par 71-66_137 last weekend at Black Bear Golf Club in Eustis. Will play in U.S. Amateur beginning Aug. 16 at Pebble Beach Golf Links in California.