By DOUG FERGUSON, AP Golf Writer
HONOLULU (AP) – Monday morning of the first Japan Golf Tour event of the year was no time to be anywhere but in front of a television.
This is where Takumi Kanaya and Keita Nakajima could be found in Nagoya last April, each captivated by images of Hideki Matsuyama winning the Masters to become the first Japanese player to wear a green jacket.
“I was just watching the telecast and cheering him on at the hotel before the tournament I was playing, and I was very inspired by his victory,” Kanaya said through a performer Tuesday at the Sony Open.
“No sleep,” Nakajima added in English with a smile. “Very excited.”
This week after Matsuyama became Masters champion, Kanaya certainly played inspired golf. He won the Token Homemate Cup for his second pro title on his sixth start on the Japan Golf Tour. Nakajima finished a shot behind.
Kanaya had already won in Japan when he was the world n ° 1 amateur.
Nakajima was in his second year in college when he finished second behind Kanaya, and now he’s the No. 1 amateur in the world. Nakajima also won the Japanese tour as an amateur, at the Panasonic Open, before taking over the Amateur Asia-Pacific.
Both are at the Sony Open this week on sponsor exemptions, and both see Matsuyama as a major source of motivation.
“First and foremost his game is second to none, and not just me, but a lot of Japanese players have been inspired to play well on American soil,” said Kanaya.
Matsuyama is also on the pitch in Waialae, the forerunner of when the three Japanese stars – all of whom have reached No.1 in the amateur rankings and Asia-Pacific amateur champions – meet at Augusta National in April for the Masters.
Nakajima earned his place by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur.
Kanaya, who made the Masters Cup in 2019 as an amateur, won a return trip to Augusta National finishing with a 66 in the last Japanese event last year to finish third, allowing him to rank in the top 50 worldwide. .
Their mentor, Matsuyama, is the Masters champion.
“I hope that I will be a pioneer and that many other Japanese will follow,” Matsuyama said when he won the Masters. “I’m happy to be able to open the floodgates, hopefully.”
Matsuyama’s influence began before he became a Masters champion. He has won two World Golf Championship tournaments, in Ohio and Shanghai, among his seven victories on the PGA Tour and eight titles on the Japan Golf Tour.
He chose to stay at Tohoku Fukushi University for four years to graduate before turning pro, Kanaya’s path.
Kanaya won the Taiheiyo Masters in college and said, “Hideki told me to win in professional tournaments. I am so happy to be able to share great news.
The ultimate destination is to play the PGA Tour, just like Matsuyama, and the Sony Open is a good opportunity for Kanaya. He is also playing in Abu Dhabi and Dubai as part of the Middle East Swing Across Europe Tour, hoping to stay in the top 50 to compete in more US events ahead of the Masters.
“When I was there playing as an amateur, I was just there for the experience,” Kanaya said. “But this year, playing as a professional, the Masters will be a key event for me to win the PGA Tour card or the European tour card.
Nakajima, already strong and committed, is completing his first year at Nippon Sports Science University. He is set to turn pro after appearing in the Masters, US Open and British Open – he is exempt as a No.1 amateur – and the world amateur team competition in France later this summer.
Nakajima prefers to speak English, although it can be hard to find the right words at times, but it reflects the deep commitment he has for golf and where he thinks he is going. In the shower, he is known to practice victory speeches in English.
He played 10 professional events in Japan last year, including his victory at the Panasonic Open and a tie for 28th in the Zozo Championship, a PGA Tour event Matsuyama won.
Nakajima considers Matsuyama to be as big a star in Japan as Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels, the American League MVP and AP Male Athlete of the Year.
“He’s a superstar in Japan,” Nakajima said. “I want to, I also want to catch up with Mr. Hideki and Mr. Takumi.”
The Sony Open, for now, is a good starting point for them.
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