From Miyamoto to Matsuyama: A look at Japan's PGA TOUR history
October 17, 2021
By Ben Everill and Laury Livsey , PGATOUR.COM
- October 17, 2021
- Japanese golfers who played in the 1935 U.S. Open, clockwise, from left: Rokuzo Asami, Haruo "Jack" Yasuda, Tomekichi “Tommy” Miyamoto, Kanekichi Nakamura, Seiha “Chick” Chin, Yutaka Januma (manager) and Toichiro “Torchy” Toda. (USGA Museum)
Editor's Note: This article was originally published October 22, 2019 to celebrate the inaugural ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP, the PGA TOUR's first official event in Japan. Since then Hideki Matsuyama made history at Augusta National Golf Club becoming the first player from Japan to win a men's major championship.
This week marks the first time an official PGA TOUR event will be played in Japan with the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP, but this very proud nation has a great history in golf and has long been a very important part of the TOUR fabric.
While in modern times Hideki Matsuyama – a five time PGA TOUR winner – has laid claim to possibly being the greatest ever player from Japan, his path to the TOUR was blazed decades prior to his emergence.
It was way back in 1929 that the first Japanese players found their way into a TOUR event. The Hawaiian Open that year – which was won by Craig Wood – had Tomekichi “Tommy” Miyamoto (T13), Haruo “Jack” Yasuda (T17) and Kanekichi Nakamura (T22) in the field.
In May 1935, at the invitation of Walter Hagen, six Japanese golfers -- Miyamoto, Yasuda and Nakamura, plus Toichiro “Torchy” Toda, Seiha “Chick” Chin and Rokuzo Asami -- traveled to Michigan for an exhibition against TOUR players Mortie Dutra, Al Watrous, Clarence Gamber, Jake Fassezke, Joe Belfore and Hagen.
A week later at the 1935 U.S. Open outside Pittsburgh, all six became the first players from Japan to appear in a PGA TOUR tournament in the United States (Hawaii was not yet a state but a territory in 1929). Nakamura was the only player to make the cut. He tied for 58th at Oakmont Country Club.
Continuing on their trek the six players traveled to South Bend, Indiana, for the Western Open (now known as the BMW Championship and part of the FedExCup Playoffs). All but Asami made the cut, with the best finish coming from Nakamura (15th).Shigeki Maruyama in 2011 at the Sony Open in Hawaii. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)
Following that tournament, the six went to Virginia at the invitation of Sam Snead to play in a goodwill exhibition match at The Homestead’s Cascades Course in Hot Springs, where Snead was the head professional. Virginia golfers Bobby Cruickshank, Graham Napier, Tommy Halloway, Nelson Long, Billy Howell and Snead played against six Japanese golfers.
In 1936, Toda played in nine documented PGA TOUR events. He, along with Chin, became the first players from Japan to play in the Masters. Chin tied for 20th, with Tommy Armour, Lawson Little, Sam Parks and Craig Wood (all major champions or future major champions), while Toda tied for 29th. Chin was born in Chinese Taipei to Chinese parents, but he grew up in Japan and counted himself a citizen of Japan.
Also in 1936, Toda recorded top-10 finishes at the Hollywood (Florida) Open (T2), the Catalina (California) Open (fifth), the Thomasville (Georgia) Open (ninth) and the Richmond Open (T10). His only missed cut was at that year’s U.S. Open.
Toda’s tie for second was the best performance by a player from Japan until Isao Aoki won the 1983 Hawaiian Open (now the Sony Open in Hawaii). He famously holed a pitching wedge for eagle on the 72nd hole to beat Jack Renner and became the first Japanese player – and first Asian – to win on the PGA TOUR.
Aoki’s PGA TOUR debut had come at the 1974 Hawaiian Open where he tied for 36th, but he became a PGA TOUR member for the first time in 1981. In the 1980 U.S. Open at Baltusrol, Aoki was runner-up to Jack Nicklaus.
Aoki only had the one TOUR win but went on to win nine times on PGA TOUR Champions.
Since Aoki’s breakthrough win, we have seen plenty more stars from Japan.Masashi "Jumbo" Ozaki at the 1996 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills. (Stephen Munday/Getty Images)
Among them, Shigeki Maruyama was a crowd favorite with tremendous character who won three times on the PGA TOUR. He first claimed the 2001 Greater Milwaukee Open to be the first Japanese player to win on the mainland.
He added wins at the 2002 AT&T Byron Nelson and the 2003 Wyndham Championship but perhaps is still best known for going 5-0 in the 1998 Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne as the International Team’s star performer in what to this day is still their only victory.
Masashi “Jumbo” Ozaki is a legend in Japan, having won 94 times on the Japan Tour. He spent the majority of his career at home but had three top-10s in majors and was a big presence.
Tommy Nakajima was another who spent the majority of his time on the Japan Tour – where he won 48 times – but he had six top-10 finishes at majors including a third place at the 1988 PGA Championship.
Ryuji Imada won the Atlanta Classic on the PGA TOUR in 2008 and Ryo Ishikawa played 145 PGA TOUR events between 2009-2017 with 11 top-10s and two runner-ups.
Satoshi Kodaira won the 2018 RBC Heritage.
And while nine Japanese players will suit up this week at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP, it is of course Matsuyama who will garner the most interest.Isao Aoki in 1982. (PGA TOUR Archives)
After bursting into our consciousness as a young amateur standout in the Masters, it didn’t take long for him to prove he could cut it as a pro. From winning the 2014 Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide as a 22-year-old to adding the 2016 and 2017 Waste Management Phoenix Open’s and the 2016 World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions and the 2017 World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
He also won the 2016 Hero World Challenge.
Matsuyama was the first Japanese player (and first Asian) to win a World Golf Championships event. He hopes to be the first to win a major championship and a FedExCup. But for now he will attempt to be the first Japanese player to win the first PGA TOUR event in Japan.
“I feel very excited. So many top players are here, so I'm very excited to play,” Matsuyama said.
Tournament organizers expect bumper crowds each day and despite the likes of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in the field you can bet a majority of those will be flooding around their countryman.
Hideki Matsuyama's journey to the PGA TOUR