This is an important time in history for golf in Japan.
The inaugural edition of the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP this week reflects a commitment – at least six years to be exact – of the PGA TOUR visiting and growing with the country. After an extended hiatus, the PGA TOUR Champions returned to conduct events in 2017 and 2019, almost as a soft reopen for what's coming. The renewed focus in the landing of the rising run includes next summer's Olympic Games.
The Japan Golf Tour is among the preeminent circuits around the world, but there hasn't been a men's event eligible to all since the World Cup of Golf in 2001. That was held in the afternoon shadow of Mount Fuji at The Taiheiyo Club in Gotemba City.
The co-sanctioned ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP is hosted by Narashino County Club in the Chiba Prefecture east of Tokyo. Scroll past the projected contenders in the field of 78 for details on the tournament, the course and more.
POWER RANKINGS: ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP
Tiger Woods, Jason Day, Marc Leishman, Ian Poulter and THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES runner-up Danny Lee will be included among the notables covered in Tuesday's Fantasy Insider.
ZOZOTOWN is the apparel company responsible for making the PGA TOUR's first-ever annual tournament in Japan possible. The ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP debuts with a prize fund of $9.75 million and there is no cut. The winner will receive $1.755 million, 500 FedExCup points and fully exempt membership through 2021-22.
The field reserves space for 60 golfers in order of final position in the 2019 FedExCup Playoffs. As of midday Monday, Kevin Streelman (75th) was the last man in the field via that conduit. Ten spots are reserved for members of the Japan Golf Tour. Eight sponsor exemptions complete the field. Fifty golfers from last week's THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES made the trip to the ZOZO.
Narashino CC is a 36-hole facility. A composite course has been routed for the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP. It's a par 34-36—70 stretching 7,041 yards. The five par 3s range from the 141-yard 13th to the 191-yard fifth. The longest of the trio of par 5s is the 608-yard 14th. The closing hole is a par 5 tipping at 562 yards, so the opportunity for walk-off heroics is in play.
Golf courses of some age in Japan were built with two greens on every hole. At the time, it was a solution to present different strains of healthy grass no matter the season. Today, bentgrass blankets most greens primarily because advances in agronomy have allowed for improved conditioning where possible year-round.
Narashino opened in 1965 with two greens per hole. They remain today. Those utilized for the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP have been prepped to run 11-and-a-half feet on the Stimpmeter. To honor the tradition of two greens in Japan, both the A and B greens on the par-4 fourth hole will be used at some point during the tournament. It's possible that another hole or holes also will use alternate greens. As usual, targets in play for every round will be determined when hole locations are posted.
If a golfer lands an approach on the incorrect green, the "wrong green" local rule will be enforced. It will allow the golfer relief off the green no closer the hole. No penalty will be assessed.
Just like last week's stop in South Korea, Japan has been hit by significant rain in recent weeks, so the greens will be receptive. Primary rough extending as high as three-and-a-quarter inches defending them and the Korai zoysiagrass fairways will be lush.
More rain is on the way during the tournament. It'll fall on Friday for sure and it can't be ruled out on any of the other days. Strong winds will protect scoring during the first two rounds. It'll abate on the weekend, which will allow the potential for a shootout to develop as ball-strikers tend to emerge on unfamiliar greens. Daytime highs will flirt with 70 degrees throughout.
ROB BOLTON’S SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM’s Fantasy Insider Rob Bolton recaps and previews every tournament from numerous angles. Look for his following contributions as scheduled.
TUESDAY*: Sleepers, Fantasy Insider
* - Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf, which also publishes on Tuesday.