All eyes on Japan for JAPAN AIRLINES Championship
PGATour.com – By: Bob McClellan
“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.”
History being made at JAPAN AIRLINES Championship
PGATour.com – By: Chris Richards – September 6, 2017
“The doors opened and the brilliance of the Imperial Palace was illuminated by dozens of camera flashes. For eight PGA TOUR Champions players, the moment truly showed the significance of the inaugural JAPAN AIRLINES Championship—not just for a city or region but for the entire country.
Shinzō Abe welcomed eight players to his office in the heart of Tokyo on Tuesday night, and it became clear that this week’s first official PGA TOUR event in Japan is an accomplishment being celebrated in both a historical and modern context.
The Prime Minister took photos with each player—Billy Andrade, Olin Browne, John Daly, Jay Haas, Tom Lehman, Scott McCarron, Larry Nelson and Tom Watson—and it was followed by another round of media photos as the group exited the Imperial Palace.
The Prime Minister noted golf’s diplomatic impact and how the sport helped unify Japan and the United States after World War II. His grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, was Japan’s Prime Minister from 1957-1960, and Kishi’s relationship with U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was largely formed on the golf course.
“(Kishi) said that the relationship between the two countries became as close as ever and the leaders’ friendship on the golf course extended further, leading them to take on the efforts of amending the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, which now builds the foundation of today’s Japan-U.S. alliance,” Abe said.
Abe has followed in his grandfather’s footsteps, as he played 27 holes with U.S. President Donald Trump in February. He teased about the precise outcome of the match, saying the scores were “state secrets” but emphasized that golf continues to unify the two nations.
“It was indeed worthwhile being able to create a trusted relationship between our two leaders, much more than a summit meeting between two leaders,” Abe said. “I believe that the Japan-U.S. relations have been forged by support from many people from all over the countries, and I do hope that through golf we’ll be able to further foster our trust and friendship that we have forged between our two countries of United States and Japan.”
On behalf of the 63 players competing in the JAPAN AIRLINES Championship, Watson echoed Abe’s sentiments and offered gratitude as only a World Golf Hall of Famer can.
“I share your understanding of how golf brings people together,” Watson said. “I’ve been coming to Japan for many years, as Larry Nelson and many of us have, to play professional golf. We’re very lucky to be able to play a game for a living and compete around the world. Japan is one of our favorite places to come and we’ll be coming back again.” Watson is the owner of two Dunlop Phoenix victories on the Japan Golf Tour, in 1980 and 1997.
Japanese media captured every moment of the 30-minute visit, which was compared favorably to occasions when the Prime Minister has hosted Japanese Olympic medalists and baseball players. By opening his doors, Prime Minister Abe also opened the JAPAN AIRLINES Championship, a first on the schedule and another milestone for the countries. The JAPAN AIRLINES Championship begins Friday at the Taiso Kawata-designed Narita Golf Club, with players vying for the U.S. $2,500,000 purse, $400,000 going to the winner.”
After long journey, Japan’s 1st PGA Tour Champions event a hit
Golfweek – By: Martin Kaufmann – September 9, 2017
“On a muggy, overcast morning an hour’s drive west of Tokyo Sept. 8, Tom Watson stepped to the first tee and struck the opening drive of the inaugural JAL Championship. The moment itself was unremarkable, but hardly insignificant. It marked the conclusion of a sometimes tortuous, five-year process to bring the first PGA Tour-sanctioned event to Japan, the world’s second-largest golf market.
When the PGA Tour first was approached about bringing a Champions event to Japan, Miller Brady, the tour’s senior vice president and chief of operations, freely admits, “I didn’t think it was viable.”
His perspective changed 18 months ago, when he traveled to Tokyo to try to seal a deal with JAL Airlines to be the title sponsor.
“The best part was we got to the end (of our presentation), and they stood up and started clapping,” Brady recalled.
That response signaled JAL was on board as title sponsor, at least for this year. JAL decided to test the waters, then reassess after the tournament whether to renew its sponsorship for 2018 and beyond.
Massy Kuramoto – chairman of the PGA of Japan, which runs the Japanese seniors tour – was less enthusiastic, according to Brady.
“He was afraid that we were going to interfere with his current events,” Brady said.
Kuramoto, who is playing in the JAL Championship, ultimately agreed to move an event to free up space for the visit by PGA Tour Champions.
The Champions players have been enthusiastic ambassadors since arriving Sept. 4. The only downside has been the 90-minute bus ride each day from The Imperial Hotel in Tokyo to Narita Golf Club and back. But the players are sucking it up and saying all the right things.
“This is awesome over here,” said Scott McCarron, making his first visit to Japan with his wife, Jenny. “Tokyo – the city is phenomenal, it’s so clean. We walked around last night and (visited) the shops and went and had dinner. It’s one of the cleanest, safest cities I’ve ever been in. Loved it. People are so friendly and nice. I’m really impressed. It’s not what I thought it would be.”
“I like Japan. I like the way people treat you with respect,” said Tom Watson, who has been visiting and playing in Japan since the mid-1970s. “They understand the game. The way they treat you outside the game is really special. We could take a great lesson from this in America.”
Narita Golf Club?
“It’s in great shape,” Kevin Sutherland said after opening with a 7-under 65 to take a share of the lead. “It’s not even just good shape, it’s in great shape. So as a result of that, it lends itself to some good scoring.””