NEED TO KNOW
Keita Nakajima: Five Things to Know
January 14, 2022
By Ben Everill , PGATOUR.COM
Keita Nakajima walk-and-talk at the Sony Open
Through two rounds of the Sony Open in Hawaii one name sneaking up the leaderboard might not be familiar to most golf fans. But 21-year-old Japanese star Keita Nakajima is a name you’ll want to remember.
Rounds of 67-64 have the world no.1 amateur, who is trying to follow in the footsteps of idol Hideki Matsuyama, at 9-under par and inside the top 10 in just his second PGA TOUR start.
Here are five things to know about the Sony Open’s surprise contender.
1. Nakajima will play in three majors this season. He booked a ticket to the Masters and The Open Championship at St. Andrews via victory in the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship last November at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club.
He is the third player from Japan to win the event after Matsuyama and Takumi Kanaya. Nakajima beat Hong Kong’s Taichi Kho on the second playoff hole. He also has an exemption into the U.S. Open thanks to taking out the Mark H. McCormack Medal as the No.1 men’s amateur in 2021.
“I am very proud of what I have achieved. To follow in the footsteps of Hideki-san and Takumi feels great. I am so excited that I will be playing three majors in 2022,” he said after his win. “I am very thankful to the tournament for giving us such great opportunities.”
2. Nakajima already has a victory on the Japan Golf Tour, winning the Panasonic Open last year and in his PGA TOUR debut at the ZOZO Championship last October, won by his idol Matsuyama, he finished a very respectable T28.
Matsuyama is a hero but he credits his friend Kanaya as a huge factor in his success having been part of the Japan National Team system under Australian coach Gareth Jones together.
“I became his teammate when I joined the national team and was able to learn from and follow in his footsteps by being awarded the McCormack Medal and winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship,” Nakajima said.
“I respect him very much. I grew up watching Takumi and he did the same following in the steps of Hideki. Takumi has since graduated from the national team and now I am the senior and I feel it’s my responsibility to leave a positive impression on the players that will come after I leave.”
3. While Matsuyama is his Japanese golf idol, Tiger Woods helped cement golf as Nakajima’s passion.
“My family all play golf and I started playing when I was around 6 years old. Whenever I would watch the PGA TOUR on TV, I’d always see Tiger Woods playing and since then, probably around the time I was in junior high school, I have always wanted to become a professional golfer,” he told PGATOUR.com
“The first player I ever remember seeing on TV was Tiger Woods. I don’t really remember any particular shots, I just remember his huge fist pumps every time he wins, which I always thought was really cool.
“Tiger is definitely a clutch player so I would like to become more like him. I was also very impressed by Collin Morikawa’s winner’s speech at The Open last year. I hope to one day become a player that can deliver a speech like that.”
4. His dream is to join Matsuyama on the PGA TOUR full-time.
“He’s a superstar in Japan. I want to catch up to Hideki,” Nakajima said this week in Honolulu. “I can only imagine all sorts of pressure he must feel to being the first Japanese to accomplish anything. To have that weight on his shoulders and still overcome that to accomplish a feat like winning the Masters is really cool.
“My main goal is to successfully play on the PGA TOUR. For the rest of my amateur career, I hope to use that time to continue to improve my game and get it to a level to where I can compete on the PGA TOUR. I’ll keep competing in as many JGTO events as I can, but if a chance to go to the U.S. and play should come up, whether that’s on the PGA TOUR or Korn Ferry Tour, I definitely would love to go over there and start my career.”
5. He has been compared to Dustin Johnson.
“I have never really seen someone swing like me and I haven’t tried to make my swing like somebody else’s, but in a recent Golf Digest (Japan) article, they compared my impact position to being very similar to Dustin Johnson,” Nakajima said. “I definitely don’t hit it as far as Dustin, but I am working on hitting it farther.”
Like DJ, Nakajima uses a TaylorMade setup on the course. Check out his full bag here.