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Top Flight

WORLD-CLASS INTERNATIONAL AND HOMEGROWN TALENT ON JAPAN’S PROFESSIONAL GOLF TOURS


It’s been a good start for Japanese golf this year with Hideki Matsuyama picking up his ninth PGA Tour title — the most ever for an Asian player — and Rikuya Hoshino getting his first victory on the DP World Tour in Europe.


Matsuyama won the Genesis Invitation at the Riviera Club in Los Angeles with a scintillating final-round 62 and is rediscovering his old form after troubles with his neck and back. His ninth PGA Tour win took him past South Korea’s K.J. Choi as the most prolific Asian winner on the PGA Tour (of course, no one regards Tiger Woods as Asian even though he’s half Thai).


Hoshino, a six-time winner on the Japan Tour, has also found superb form on the DP World Tour this season with runner-up finishes at the Australian PGA Championship and the ISPS Handa Australian Open before triumphing in the Qatar Masters with a clutch performance in February.


The good news for golf fans in Japan is that the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour will once again be making stops in Japan this year. First up is the is the ISPS Handa Championship, which will take place at the famous Taiheiyo Club Gotemba from April 25 to 28. The first edition of this tournament took place last year at PgM Ishioka Golf Club near Mito and Australian Lucas Herbert took the title with a playoff win over Canada’s Aaron Cockerill.


Leading the field this year will be South African South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout, while Hoshino will be hoping to do better than last year’s 23rd-place finish. Four-time DP World Tour winner Rafa Cabrera Bello.

Matsuyama should be on hand when the PGA Tour heads to Japan in October for the Zozo Championship. Matsuyama won the tournament in spectacular style in 2021 when it returned to the Accordia Narashi- no Country Club after a year in the United States due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tiger Woods won the first edition in 2019 and could make a return to Japan as he’s promised to play more golf this year. Collin Morikawa is the defending champion and we’re likely to see Xander Schauffele and Rickie Fowler, two players with very close ties to Japan, compete for the US $8.5 million prize money.

On the women’s side, America’s lPGA Tour heads to Japan at the end of October for the Toto Classic, where international stars will go head-to-head with the best of Japan at the spectacular Seta Golf Club near Lake Biwa. Three of the last four winners have been Japanese: Mone Inami last year, Ai Suzuki in 2019, and Nasa Hataoka in 2018. Two years were lost to the pandemic.



But the competition is likely to be tough. Lydia Ko is rediscovering her form after a dip last year following her marriage and Thailand’s Patty Tavatanakit has already won twice in 2024. Japan will be pinning its hopes on the likes of Inami, the in-form Ayaka Furue, Nasa Hataoka, Yuka Saso and the Iwai twins, Chisato and Akie.


While co-sanctioned events bring the glamor of overseas stars, the main focus of Japanese golf has always been its domestic tours: the Japan Golf Tour (JGTO) and the Japan Ladies Professional Golfers’ Association (JlPGA) Tour.

Thirty years ago, the JGTO was the most lucrative tour in the world, but it has contracted somewhat since the days of Jumbo Ozaki. The JLPGA Tour has outpaced it in recent years and now has 37 tournaments spread over the year and around the country, a new generation of fans, and a great combination of domestic and foreign stars.


Miyuu Yamashita dominated 2023 with five victories and 213 million yen in prize money. Behind her in the money rankings the Iwai twins were ranked second (Akie, three victories) and fifth (Chisato, two victories), with former world no. 1 Jiyai Shin (two wins) of South Korea third, Sakura Koiwai (one win) fourth and Kokona Sakurai (four wins) sixth.


The JGTO Tour has just 23 events this year and last year’s leading prize-money winner, Keita Nakajima, earned around 30 million yen less than his female counterpart. But the JGTO has high hopes for its up-and-coming stars. Money leader Nakajima is just 23, as is the no.2 in the money rankings, Taiga Semikawa, while the third-placed golfer, Takumi Kanaya, is 25.


Meanwhile, the “Prince,” Ryo Ishikawa, who won his first JGTO title over 15 years ago, is still young at 32 and still a massive draw. He finished ninth in the money rankings last year.

For the amateur golfer, there is still a sense of wonder watching the pros tee up and smash 350-yard drives, shape their shots from left and right, and sink 20-meter putts. While the crowds flock to see the major stars, there are many opportunities to see the best golfers in the world — and in Japan — at tournaments around the country.


What they can do with a club and a ball will amaze you and is well worth going to see.




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