PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS INSIDER
All eyes on Japan for JAPAN AIRLINES Championship
Historic PGA TOUR Champions event set for Narita Golf Club near Tokyo
September 05, 2017
By Bob McClellan , PGATOUR.COM
- September 05, 2017
- A look at the par-4 17th at Narita Golf Club, site of this week's JAPAN AIRLINES Championship. (Stewart Moore/PGA TOUR)
One of the best players in the world will cast an eye toward Tokyo this weekend and the results from the PGA TOUR Champions' JAPAN AIRLINES Championship.
It is, after all, the first PGA TOUR-sanctioned event to be held in Japan, a country that has produced such golf luminaries as Isao Aoki, Jumbo Ozaki and Tommy Nakajima. Aoki won nine times on PGA TOUR Champions and is second on the all-time wins list on the Japan Golf Tour, behind Ozaki.
The player who will be checking the results is none other than Hideki Matsuyama, the No. 4 player in the FedExCup standings. At the tender age of 25 he is having the best season a Japanese player has ever had on the PGA TOUR. He has won three times, including two World Golf Championships events, and has three runner-up finishes.
No one from Japan has ever won a major, but Matsuyama tied for second at this year’s U.S. Open. He wasn’t too shabby at 2017’s other majors, either: T11 at The Masters; T14 at The Open Championship and T5 at the PGA Championship.
So a PGA TOUR-sanctioned event on Japanese soil? Count Matsuyama in.
“Of course. I will be watching to see how my fellow Japan Tour players are doing against the world's top senior pros,” Matsuyama said. “Hopefully someday soon Japan can host an official PGA TOUR event, too.”
The JAL Championship was announced on Oct. 17, 2016, at a news conference in Tokyo. It will be contested at Narita Golf Club, not far from Tokyo International Airport.
“We are honored to welcome JAPAN AIRLINES into the PGA TOUR family, as we continue to further globalize PGA TOUR Champions and the legends of the game for golf fans arond the world,” PGA TOUR Champions President Greg McLaughlin said at the news conference. “The JAPAN AIRLINES Championship will be an exciting new venture for our Tour and will allow our players and fans to experience the golf-rich culture that is Tokyo.”
PGA TOUR Champions also brought along Tom Watson for the announcement in Tokyo. The World Golf Hall of Famer, a 14-time winner on PGA TOUR Champions and a longtime proponent of expanding the game globally, won twice in Japan, at the Japan Golf Tour’s Dunlop Phoenix Tournament, which annually draws several of the best players in the world. It also has been won by Johnny Miller, Seve Ballesteros, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Lee Westwood, Matsuyama and current PGA TOUR Champions regulars Larry Mize and David Frost.
Watson drew on his previous experience playing in Japan in addressing the media.
“It is important that we continue to develop the next generation of golfers – both in the United States and abroad – and I know first-hand that the passion and love for the game the Japanese fans inherently enjoy will help to make this a marquee stop on our schedule,” Watson said.
Japan Airlines sent a luxury jumbo jet to pick up PGA TOUR Champions players and officials from the Shaw Charity Classic in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, that finished on Sunday and deliver them to Tokyo.
From all appearances it was quite a ride.
In fact, judging from social media, the new event has many of the players buzzing before it even has begun.
Note: The JAPAN AIRLINES Championship airs on Golf Channel on Thursday at 10 p.m. ET