Kanaya, Nakajima following big footsteps of Hideki Matsuyama

Jan 11, 2022, 9:04 AM | Updated: 11:07 pm
FILE -Hideki Matsuyama of Japan celebrates after putting on the champion's green jacket after winni...

FILE -Hideki Matsuyama of Japan celebrates after putting on the champion's green jacket after winning the Masters golf tournament on Sunday, April 11, 2021, in Augusta, Ga. Matsuyama has been a mentor to No. 1 amateurs Takumi Kanaya and Keita Nakajima. All three are playing the Sony Open this week. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

(AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

HONOLULU (AP) — The Monday morning of the first Japan Golf Tour event of the year was no time to be anywhere except in front of a television.

That’s 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 in a green jacket.

“I was simply watching the telecast and cheering him on in the hotel prior to the tournament that I was playing in, and I was very inspired by his win,” Kanaya said through an interpreter Tuesday at the Sony Open.

“No sleep,” Nakajima added in English with a smile. “Very excited.”

That week after Matsuyama became a Masters champion, Kanaya certainly played inspired golf. He won the Token Homemate Cup for his second title as a pro in just his sixth start on the Japan Golf Tour. Nakajima finished one shot behind.

Kanaya previously won in Japan when he was the No. 1 amateur in the world.

Nakajima was a sophomore in college when he finished second to Kanaya, and now he is the No. 1 amateur in the world. Nakajima also won on the Japan tour as an amateur, at the Panasonic Open, before capturing the Asia-Pacific Amateur.

Both are at the Sony Open this week on sponsor exemptions, and both consider Matsuyama a major source of motivation.

“First and foremost, his playing is second-to-none, and not only me but a lot of the Japanese players have been inspired to play well on U.S. soil,” Kanaya said.

Matsuyama is also in the field at Waialae, a precursor to when the three Japanese stars — all of them having reached No. 1 in the amateur ranking and Asia-Pacific Amateur champions — meet again at Augusta National in April for the Masters.

Nakajima earned his spot by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur.

Kanaya, who made the cut at the Masters in 2019 as an amateur, earned a return trip to Augusta National by closing with a 66 in the final Japan event of last year to finish third, enabling him to move into the top 50 in the world.

Their mentor, Matsuyama, is the Masters champion.

“Hopefully, I’ll be a pioneer and many other Japanese will follow,” Matsuyama said when he won the Masters. “I’m glad to be able to open the floodgates, hopefully.”

Matsuyama’s influence began before he became a Masters champion. He has won a pair of World Golf Championship events, in Ohio and Shanghai, among his seven PGA Tour victories to go with eight titles on the Japan Golf Tour.

He chose to stay at Tohoku Fukushi University all four years to get his degree before turning pro, the path Kanaya followed.

Kanaya won the Taiheiyo Masters while in college and said, “Hideki told me to win at professional tournaments. I am so glad that I can report great news.”

The ultimate destination is play the PGA Tour, just like Matsuyama, and the Sony Open is a good opportunity for Kanaya. He also is playing Abu Dhabi and Dubai as part of the Middle East swing through the European tour, with hopes of staying in the top 50 to get in more U.S. events ahead of the Masters.

“When I was there playing as an amateur, I was simply there for the experience,” Kanaya said. “But this year, playing as a professional, the Masters will be a key event for me to earn the card for PGA Tour or European tour.

Nakajima, already with a strong build and a deep commitment, is finishing up his junior year at Nippon Sports Science University. He is expected to turn pro after playing the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open — he is exempt as the No. 1 amateur — and the World Amateur Team competition in France later this summer.

Nakajima prefers to speak English, even as it’s a struggle at times to find the right words, but it reflects the deep commitment he has to golf and where he believes he is going. In the shower, he is known to practice victory speeches in English.

He played 10 pro events in Japan last year, including his win at the Panasonic Open and a tie for 28th in the Zozo Championship, a PGA Tour event that Matsuyama won.

Nakajima considers Matsuyama to be as big of a star in Japan as Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels, the American League MVP and the AP Male Athlete of the Year.

“He’s a superstar in Japan,” Nakajima said. “I want to I want to catch up to Mr. Hideki and Mr. Takumi, as well.”

The Sony Open, for now, is a good starting point for them.


For more AP golf coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) passes against the Denver Broncos during the f...
Associated Press

Broncos, Wilson edge Niners, Garoppolo 11-10 in prime time

DENVER (AP) — Melvin Gordon atoned for two fumbles with a late 1-yard touchdown run and safety Kareem Jackson recovered Jeff Wilson Jr.’s fumble with 1:05 left to preserve the Denver Broncos’ 11-10 win over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night. Russell Wilson and the Broncos (2-1) won despite going three-and-out nine times. Their […]
21 hours ago
New York Yankees' Aaron Judge looks out before a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox Sunday, S...
Associated Press

Judge still at 60, Yanks get rain-shortened win over Sox

NEW YORK (AP) — Aaron Judge remained at 60 home runs, one short of Roger Maris’ American League record, when the New York Yankees’ 2-0 victory Sunday night over the Boston Red Sox was called after six innings because of rain. Judge went 1 for 2 with a double and was due up next for […]
21 hours ago
Tyler Reddick drives in front of Erik Jones (43) during the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Texas Mo...
Associated Press

Reddick wins NASCAR playoff race in long, tiring Texas day

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Tyler Reddick opened the round of 12 in NASCAR’s playoff with a victory at Texas on Sunday, winning a week after being one of the first four Cup drivers knocked out of title contention. After none of the contenders won the first three races of the playoffs — a first […]
21 hours ago
Atlanta Braves's Ronald Acuna Jr. celebrates after scoring on an RBI single by Michael Harris II du...
Associated Press

Acuña delivers late, Braves outlast Phillies 8-7 in 11

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Ronald Acuña singled home the go-ahead run in the 11th inning and the Braves stayed close in the NL East race, outlasting the Phillies 8-7 Sunday in a game that took over six hours to complete because of a two-hour rain delay. “Our goal is to win the World Series again,” Acuna […]
21 hours ago
Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Tom Brady thorws during the second half of an NFL football game against the G...
Associated Press

Rodgers throws for 2 TDs, Packers hold off Brady, Bucs 14-12

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers did just enough to beat Tom Brady and the short-handed Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The NFL MVP threw for 255 yards and two touchdowns, and the Packers withstood a late rally led by Brady to hold off the Bucs for a 14-12 victory in the […]
21 hours ago
New York Mets designated hitter Pete Alonso (20) reacts after a home run in the fourth inning of a ...
Associated Press

Alonso sets team RBI mark; Scherzer, Mets top A’s, hold lead

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Pete Alonso homered, doubled and drove in five runs to set the team record for RBIs, Max Scherzer pitched six sharp innings and the New York Mets routed the Oakland Athletics 13-4 Sunday to hold their NL East lead. The Mets remained 1 1/2 games ahead of Atlanta. New York has […]
21 hours ago
Kanaya, Nakajima following big footsteps of Hideki Matsuyama