Corona del Mar High freshman golfer Amy Matsuoka is the Daily Pilot High School Athlete of the Week. (SCOTT SMELTZER, Daily Pilot / November 7, 2012)

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It has been nearly five years since Corona del Mar High freshman Amy Matsuoka traded the balance beam for a bucket of golf balls.

Both gymnastics and golf can be sports where an inch makes a difference. Matsuoka was not seeing the results she wanted as she practiced for hours a day at the Gym-Max Academy of Gymnastics in Costa Mesa.

The gym has been in the news lately. Kyla Ross of Aliso Viejo, who won a gold medal at the London Olympics as a member of the U.S. women's gymnastics team, trains there. Fellow Olympian McKayla Mulroney of Long Beach also trained at Gym-Max for years before relocating.

Matsuoka kept training, but the best she could do was place third in an event at a small meet.

"She kind of got a little bit frustrated," said her father, Denis. "She finally said, 'Dad, I want to quit gymnastics, I want do something else.' She had already tried soccer, all these other sports.

"I said, 'How about golf?' And she goes, 'That sport is boring!'"

But Denis Matsuoka persisted. Just after she turned 10 years old, he took Amy to Newport Beach Golf Course and set her up with a bucket of balls. What resulted was one of those unforgettable moments.

"She had a natural swing, and she could hit the ball really well," Denis Matsuoka said. "She goes, 'I like this sport, dad!' Before I ruined her strokes, I decided to get her a coach. And she just took off."

Amy Matsuoka, the Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week, certainly did. At just 14, she has turned into a top junior girls' golfer. She made a big difference this year for Coach Mike Starkweather's CdM girls' golf team, a team that went 0-16 last year.

CdM improved to 7-7 this year and tied for third in the Pacific Coast League. Matsuoka medaled in 11 of the Sea Kings' 14 matches, and eight of 10 matches in league. She was named the league MVP.

But Matsuoka's season didn't end there. She shot a 79 at the CIF Southern Section Individual Final on Nov. 1 at Western Hills Country Club in Chino Hills. The score made the cut for Thursday's CIF Regional State Qualifier, and she was the only Newport-Mesa golfer to do so.

"I was really excited," Amy Matsuoka said, and you won't get many more words than that out of her. Just like there's not a lot of wasted motion in her golf stroke, there's not a lot wasted words when she talks.

Matsuoka's season did end Thursday, when she shot a 78 at The Golf Club at Rancho California in Murrieta. The cut was 72 to advance to the CIF State Championship.

But, to Starkweather, it was a very successful freshman year. He certainly holds Matsuoka in high regard. She was a leader for a CdM team with just one senior, Emily Turner.

"Amy is an amazing young lady," Starkweather said. "She's probably one of, if not the best, young golfers to come to Corona del Mar High School in the [18] years I've been there. She just has a great work ethic."

Making the cut at Western Hills wasn't easy. Matsuoka, who tied for 27th and had three birdies in her round, made it by just one stroke. Starkweather said it was a great feat considering the golfers played from the silver tees, which added about 400 yards to the course.

Matsuoka said she can drive the ball 220 yards, but she's still just 5-foot-1. On that day, however, she got the job done.

"My chipping was really good that day," she said. "I chipped it close to save par."

Amy Matsuoka said she couldn't imagine her freshman year going so well. But it makes sense. She put in work over the summer with her private coach, Mike McNary of Willowick Golf Course in Santa Ana.

Amy played a challenging junior golf tournament schedule. She won five Southern California PGA tournaments in two months, including the 23rd annual Costa Mesa City Championship tournament. She ranked second in the SCPGA summer rankings, despite playing in just eight tournaments. The first-place finisher, Kaitleen Shee of Diamond Bar, played in 30 tournaments.