JAPANESE PROFESSIONAL GOLFERS
Some say Japan’s golfing boom began in 1957 when Japanese golf legend Torakichi Nakamura won the Canada Cup, the forerunner of the World Cup, in 1957, beating Sam Snead and Gary Player. Widely known by his English nickname Pete, he played in the Masters in 1958, and first Japanese to be invited to play in that tournament after World War II. Nakamura was only five foot two and had a unique two-step swing. He began his golf career as a caddy when he was 14 and developed an innovative game and turned pro at age 20. Later he coached Japanese golfers such as Hisako Higuchi. Nakamura died in 2008 at the age of 92.
Hisako Higuchi was the first Asian golfer to be inducted into the World Golf Hall fo Fame. Isao Aoki won the Hawaiian Open in 1983 on the U.S. P.G.A. Tour and was the runner up to Jack Nicklaus at the U.S. Open in 1980. Toshi Izawa tied for forth place in the 2001 Masters
In 2009 Teruo Sugihara broke Arnold Palmer’s record of 50 consecutive appearances at the Masters. His world record streak of 51 straight appearances at The Crowns tournament came to an end when the 73-year-old golfer withdrew from that event so he could fight lymph node cancer.
Until he was surpassed by Ryo Ishikawa in 2009, Joe Ozaki was the youngest person to win the Japanese men’s title, at 26. In his career he won 13 titles.
Masahi “Jumbo” Ozaki won 94 golf tournaments, including the Japan Open five times. A former professional baseball player, he was the leading money winner in Japan for 12 years, earning ¥2.7 billion a prize money, more than any other Japanese golfer, in his lifetime. Even so he declared bankruptcy in 2005.
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Active Japanese Professional Golfers
Tiger Woods ad poster Japan has several golfers who are competitive on the P.G.A. tour. Shigeki Maruyama has won three tournaments on the U.S. P.G.A. Tour. He won the Great Milwaukee Open in July 2001, the Byron Nelson Classic in May 2002, the Chrysler Classic in October 2003. He has also been a contender in the British Open. Sometimes called the “smiling assassin,” he is regarded as a joker, smiles after bogeys and is often seen puffing on cigarettes before he shoots. He is the only Asian to have wn two or more tournaments on the U.S. tour. In Japan, he appears in energy drink commercials driving a rocket. Even though he is only 1.69 meters tall he can outdrive Tiger Woods
Shingo Katayama has played respectably in majors and has been on the leader board in early rounds. He is a four time money title winner on the JGTO tour. In April 2009, he finished in forth place in the Masters, to equal the best finish ever by a Japanese in the event, finishing with a 20-foot birdie in the final hole. Katayama also performed well at the PGA championship in 2001. He led going into the weekend at the Atlanta Athletic Club and finished forth
In May 2008, Ryuji Imada won his first PGA tournament---The AT&T Classic in Duluth, Georgia---one year after losing a championship playoff in the same tournament after hitting a ball in the in the water. In 2008 he won after his opponent Kenny Perry did the same thing---hit the ball in the water---on the first hole of another play off. Imada knows the course well. The Hiroshima native attended nearby University of Georgia. He had been runner-up three times in PGA tournaments.
Hideto Tanihara was 5th at the 2006 British Open was the best performance ever in that tournament by a Japanese golfer. He won two tournaments on the Japanese tour in 2006.
In 2007, Yusaka Miyazato became only the second player to get two holes in one in the same round of golf. When asked what he was going to do after completing the feat feat on the second day at the Reno-Tahoe Open he said in broken English, “Drink much beer. Big party.” His little sisters is Ai Miyazato (see Below),
In 2007, Mitsuhiro Tateyama scored a 19 on the par-3 8th hole ay the Acom International tournament. It was the worst single hole by a Japan Tour pro since 1987. In 2008, Kaname Yokoo was on line to score a 59 on the Yomiuro Tokyo golf course in the opening round of the golf Nippon Series JT Cup until he triple bogied the difficult, par three 18th.
Ryo Ishikawa is arguably the cutest male athlete in Japan. In May 2007, at the age of 15 years and eight months, he became the youngest player ever to win a pro event in Japan, the Musingwear KSB Cup. He came from four strokes back to win in the final day and won the tournament as an amateur. In 2010, Ishikawa was selected as the 2nd most popular athlete in Japan behind baseball player Ichiro Suzuki in a Yomiuri Shimbun poll.
Ryo Ishikawa is from Saitama Prefecture . He said that he started thinking of becoming a pro when he was 10 attending his first tournament---the 2001 Japan Open, where he received an autograph from Joe Ozaki. In January 2008 at the age of 16 Ishikawa became the youngest Japanese to turn pro. In English he said, “I want to play with Tiger [Woods] in the future. He continued his high school studies while playing on tour events in Japan.
Sometimes called the “Shy Prince” because of his reserved demeanor and good looks, Ishikawa gets “Tiger-like” attention when he plays in Asia. He has said that Tiger Woods is the player that inspired me the most.” In an invitation to play at a tournament Arnold Palmer wrote him, “I have been following your achievements m Japan and I am quite impressed with what you have accomplished at such a young age.”
In 2008, at the age of 17, Ryo Ishikawa became the youngest player to earn ¥100 million in prize money on the Japanese men’s tour and finished fifth on the money list in Japan in 2008. In October 2008, Iskikawa was runner up in the Japan Open, his career high finish at that time. He scored his first victory as a pro winning the Mynavi ABC Championship in Hyogo Prefecture in November 2008. He was the youngest pro to win a tournament. In February 2008, Ishikawa missed the cut in his PGA debut, at the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles. At that time he was ranked 67th in the world
He is very popular, with middle aged women being among his biggest fans. He has generated great interest in golf in a nation that is already golf crazy and brought audiences to the game on television and an at tournaments. Golf courses nationwide have seen an increase in players since he arrived on the scene. Ishikawa has attracted a new generation of fans but some of these fans have been criticized for their poor manners, namely talking, taking pictures and using their cell phones when the golfers are getting ready to make shots. Some have even applauded when other players competing against Ishikawa made a mistake. Yet others began walking after Ishikawa took his shot but before all the golfers have taken their shots.
Ishikawa is so popular a television station once paid another golfer playing with Ishikawa to carry a secret microphone to record everything Ishikawa said. AP reported: the stylish Ishikawa, with bright-colored clothes, a consistent putter and youthful acne on his cheery face.” One day Ishikawa sported all pink---a pink zip-up sweater, pink slacks and pink shoes. The next day he toned it down a tad with a cherry-red zip-up sweater and off-white pants. His main sponsor is Panasonic.
Ishikawa is credited with saving JGTO (Japan Golf Tour Organization) from financial collapse by drawing large crowds to their events.
Ishikawa plans to play full time o the PGA Tour in 2013.
Ryo Ishikawa Success in 2009
Ishikawa made his debut on the PGA tour at the age of 17 at the Northern Trust Open in Pacific Palisades, California in January 2009. He competed in the Masters, British Open and PGA Championship in 2009 and had trouble just making the cut in the first two days in each tournament.
Ishikawa won the Mizuno Open Yomiuri Classic in June 2009, his first win of the 2009 and season and 3rd overall. The win qualified him for the British Open. On the last day he blew a 5 stroke lead on one hole by carding a 9 on the par 4 12th hole, with two shots out of bounds, but then regrouped with lucky chip shot eagle on the par 5 15th that went off the club hard but went in after hitting the flag.
Ryo Ishikawa, at the age of 17, won the Coca-Cola Tokai Classic in 2009, his forth victory of the season, and fifth overall, and put him over the $1 million mark in earnings for the year. He ended the 2009 season as the leading money winner with ¥183.5 million, making him by far the youngest player to achieve the feat. The youngest before him was 23.
Ishikawa was named Sportsman of the Year in the Japan Pro Sports Awards in 2008 and 2009.
Ryo Ishikawa in 2010 and 2011
Ryo Ishikawa finished 36th in the world rankings in 2010. This was enough to earn him a place in the 2011 Masters. He won three tournaments in 2010 was in contention for the top money winner contest in Japan but played poorly in his final tournament of the season and didn’t win.
Ishikawa missed the cut at the Masters in April 2010 after the second round after suffering a meltdown on the back nine at Augusta. He was competitive in the British Open and finished the second round of the U.S. Open, where he was teamed up with golf legend Tom Watson, toed for second.
In May 2010, Ishikawa shot a JGTO record of 58 on the final day of The Crowns tournament for a come-from-behind victory and his seventh title. The 18-year-old overcame a six shot deficit with a round in which he sunk 12 birdies and didn’t get a single bogie. He birdied the first 9 of 11 holes, putted only 20 times the entire day, and finished the day with a chip-in birdie on the 18th hole.
In September 2010, Ishikawa got a hole in one on par 3, 187-yard sixth hole and pulled within one at the Asia-Pacific Panasonic Open but faltered on the last day and failed to win.
The year 2011 did not get off to good start for Ishikawa. After promising to give all of his prize money to victims of the earthquake and tsunami he failed to win a tournament. In May and June he missed two consecutive cuts and finished second to last place in the Japan Golf Tour Championship, which he began with a 12 over par 83, which included a triple bogey on the 17th hole and an 8 on the par-four 14th hole at the Shishido Hills Country Club n Ibaraki Prefecture. The second day he had a six over par 77 that included a triple bogey Before his way to the airport for his flight to Washington for the U.S. Open he was found driving without a valid driver’s license.
Ishikawa was granted a special temporary membership on the PGA tour in 2011. He competed in 10 tournaments and won $577,136 in prize money.
Ishikawa had his ups and downs. In August 2011, he was in last place after the 1st round of the PGA Championship with a 15-over 85. The week before he finished a career-high in a PGA event, placing forth in the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron Ohio. He finished five strokes behind the leader Adam Scott of Australia. For a while he threatned to be the PGA Tour’s youngest winner in 100 years.
Ishikawa Ends Two-Year Title Drought
In November 2012, Ryo Ishikawa ended a two-year victory drought at the site of his last triumph by winning the Mitsui Sumitomo Visa Taiheiyo Masters by one stroke, making him the youngest player in tour history with 10 career crowns. Ishikawa, who started the day with a one-shot lead, combined seven birdies and three bogeys in a 4-under 68 to finish at 15-under 273 and claim the 30 million yen top prize at the Taiheiyo Club Gotemba Course in Gotemba, Shizuoka, Japan. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 13, 2012]
Ishikawa, at 21 years 1 month easily rewrote the record for fastest to double-digit titles. Yuta Ikeda was 26 years 9 months when he reached the milestone earlier this year. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Ishikawa was all smiles as he took in the applause from the gallery. But upon seeing some of those with close connections, he became overwhelmed with emotion and broke down in tears. "I really caused problems by doing so poorly," Ishikawa said. "I really appreciate their support."
After winning the Taiheiyo Masters in 2010, Ishikawa played in 70 tournaments. He finished second four times, including at this year's Puerto Rico Open, and missed the cut 20 times. "I really believed that if I kept practicing, I would get better," Ishikawa said. "Today showed that I wasn't wrong." Meanwhile, Ishikawa received more good news Monday when he was informed that he had earned a tour card for next season on the U.S. PGA tour. Based mainly on his winnings in Puerto Rico, Ishikawa earned finished 108th on the PGA money rankings, and had played the required 18 tournaments on the circuit. [Ibid]
Ishikawa Finishes Career-High 2nd in a PGA event in Puerto Rico
In March 2012, Ryo birdied the last two holes to finish alone in second at the Puerto Rico Open, his career-best U.S. PGA Tour result. The 20-year-old star, playing on the first anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan's northeastern shores, closed with a 4-under 68 to finish at 14-under 274, two strokes behind George McNeill of the United States. [Source: Kyodo, March 12, 2012]
"I never imagined that I would be able to contend for the title like this. I felt like I was dreaming at times," said Ishikawa, who began the day tied for fifth, three strokes off the lead. He had six birdies and two bogeys in the final round. Ishikawa, a nine-time winner in Japan, took home $378,000 to push his 2012 earnings on the U.S. tour to $582,471. The amount has exceeded that of the player who finished 150th on the 2011 PGA money list, giving Ishikawa 60 days to join the tour as a special temporary member. He earns unlimited sponsor exemptions the rest of the season. [Ibid]
Kyodo reported: “Ishikawa intends to exercise the right to join the world's most competitive tour while needing to make adjustments to his tour schedule in Japan. "Even though the stage was different, I felt like my experience of winning in Japan paid off. Next time I get into contention, I want to grab victory for sure." Ishikawa, who has received a special invitation to the April 5-8 Masters Tournament from the major's committee, saw his world ranking improve to 47th after the Puerto Rico tournament. He was the highest ranked player in the Puerto Rico field at No. 53 after failing to qualify for the WGC-Cadillac Championship held in Florida the same week. [Ibid]
Japanese Women Golfers
Yuri Fudo is the first golfer to win more than ¥1 billion playing in the Japan LPGA tour. She had 44 tournament wins as of July 2008. She led the Women’s British Open in 2008 after the third day but finished 3rd.
Thirty-five-year-old Japanese veteran Akiko Fukushima won the World’s Ladies Championship in May 2008, defeating South Korea Shun Ji Yai on the fifth hole in a playoff. It was Fukushima’s first international win in 11 years. Keili Kuenhe is another highly-touted female Japanese player. In 2008, at the age of the age of 28, she lead the SBS Open, a LPGA tournament in Hawaii, for a while.
Ayako Okamoto was the top money winner on the LPGA tour in 1987.
South Korean Ahn Sun Ju was the top money earner on the Japan LPGA tour in 2010. She was the first foreign golfer to win the title in 19 years.
Japanese golfer Chie Arimura placed second at the HSBC Women’s Champions, a U.S. LPGA event held in Singapore, in February 2011. She was leading going into the final round but was passed by Australia’s Karrie Webb, who won the event.
Twenty-three-year-old Sakura Yokomine won the season money title in the Japan LPGA in 2009. She won six tournaments in the year with winnings in 2009 of ¥175 million. At that point in her career she had 12 victories.
Ai Miyazato is a very popular young Japanese player. Cute and very short, she is featured in several commercials and is a common sight on Japanese television. In 2004, at the age of 19, she became the youngest player to earn ¥100 million in prize money on the Japanese women’s tour.
After doing well on the Japan’s women’s tour Miyazato left for the United States, while still in her teens, determined to make it on the LPGA tour. She has been in he running in a couple of tournaments, making it to the semifinals in the HSBC Women’s World Match Play in July 2007 and placing 5th in the Women’s British Open in 2008. Momoka Ueda is another highly-touted young female Japanese player.
In July 2009, Ai Miyazato won her first career LPGA title, the Evian Masters. At 24 she became the 5th youngest Japanese woman to win an LPGA event. She won with a birdie on the first sudden-death play-off hole She had won 14 tournaments in Japan and the inaugural World Cup in 2005. In August 2009, Miyazato finished tied for third in the women’s British Open.
Miyazato won the first two tournaments of the 2010 LPGA season: the LPGA Thailand and the HSBC Champions in Singapore. In Thailand, she overcame a six-stroke deficit to win. After her victory in Singapore she was ranked forth in the world. In May, she won the Tres Marias Championship in Morelia, Mexico for her third LPGA title of the season. At that point all her LPGA victories had come at tournaments held outside the United States.
In June 2010, Miyazato won her forth tournaments of the 2010 LPGA season: the ShopRite LPGA Classic in Galloway New Jersey. She turned 25 during the third day of the tournament. On the last day she fired a sizzling 7-under 64 to claim a two-shot victory and take the No.1 spot in the world rankings, That victory was Miyazato’s first win in the United States. Afterwards she said, “When I started playing in the States, that’s when I really started thinking about being No. 1. That became a dream of mine, especially watching Annika [Sorenstam] and Lorena [Ochea] play.
In August 2010, Miyazato won the LPGA Safeway Classic in North Plains, Oregon, her fifth win on the LPGA tour. On the final day she regained her composure on the back nine after getting back-to-back bogeys on the 2nd and 3rd holes. Miyazato had led the first two days and finished out the last day with an even-par 72. The win gave her the No.1 spot in the world rankings.
Miyazato had won 15 tournaments in Japan as of 2010. Her father is a golf swing coach and her two older brother are professional golfers. She began playing golf at age four. Her father still acts as her coach. A low point for her was 2007---her second years on the LPGA tour---when she missed the cut in five tournament in a row.
In July 2011, Miyazato won the Evian Master in France. It was first her won of the season and seventh LPGA title overall. . She played consistantly throughou the torunamen, dropping just 5 of the 72 holes and finished 15 under. She donated a good chnk of her $487,500 check to victims of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
In March 2012, Ai Miyazato tied for 2nd at Founders Cup. She had to settle for her second runner-up finish this season, losing by one stroke to world No. 1 Yanu Tseng.
Mika Miyazato Wins 1st LPGA Tournament, in Oregon
In August 2012, Fox Sports Network reported: “Mika Miyazato carded a 2-under 70 on Sunday to hold on for a two-stroke victory at the Safeway Classic North Plains, Oregon and her first LPGA Tour title. Miyazato finished at 13-under par 203, and broke through for the win that was long in the making for her. The 22-year-old has been close to her first title many times, especially this year. She tied for third at the ShopRite LPGA Classic, then was a runner-up at both the LPGA Championship and Arkansas Championship. But Miyazato found her way into the winner's circle thanks to a clean round at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club that included three birdies and a single bogey. [Source:Fox Sports Network, August 19, 2012]
Miyazato finished two strokes ahead of Brittany Lincicome (67) and Inbee Park (69), who shared second at minus-11. Miyazato began the round two strokes ahead of Ryu, the previous week's winner at the Jamie Farr Owens Toledo Classic. But Miyazato didn't make the kind of frequent mistakes that cost players titles, turning in a clean front nine that included two birdies. She bogeyed No. 10 to dip to minus-12, and her lead was down to one stroke. [Ibid]
Next Ai Miyazato?
An Okinawa elementary school girl drew a lot of media attention in the opening week of the 2010 Japanese women's professional golf season. Twelve-year-old Hina Arakaki became the youngest player ever to tee off at the Daikin Orchid Ladies tournament in Okinawa Prefecture. Arakaki did not receive a sponsor exemption. She earned her spot by placing fourth in the Daikin Orchid Ladies amateur qualifying tournament. The top four finishers in a field of 224 qualified for the season opener. [Source: Kyodo, March 3, 2011]
"I hope to become a world-class pro golfer like Ai Miyazato or Mika Miyazato, who are Okinawa-born stars," Arakaki told Kyodo News. Arakaki started playing golf in her second year of elementary school. Her father and coach Hiroaki is impressed that his daughter's game has been improving faster than he expected. "She is getting better and improving faster than I imagined," he said. "She hangs tough on golf courses. She often bounces back even when she appears to be heading toward a bad score. She's gradually been able to manage 18 holes without getting into deep trouble." Arakaki averages between 200 and 220 yards with her driver, and her best round so far is a 3-over 75.
Arakaki is the second youngest woman to make a tournament appearance in Japan LPGA history, following Kumiko Kaneda, who played in a 2001 event 18 days before she turned 12. Kaneda holds the record for the youngest player to make the cut at 12 years, 9 months at the 2002 Resort Trust Ladies.
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Image Sources: 1) 2) 3) Wikipedia 4) Japan-Photo.de, 5) Japan Zone,
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated January 2013