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  • Alistair Tait

Japan's first (male) major champion?

Step aside Hideki Matsuyama. Takumi Kanaya is playing though.

Most golf fans know of Matsuyama (above). He's been on the world stage for a long time now. Indeed, he's been a major champion in waiting for quite a few years. The relatively unknown Kanaya may get there first. He could become the first Japanese male player to join golf's major club.

He's certainly announced himself to the world of professional golf in quick order. Kanaya's victory in the Dunlop Phoenix on the Japan Golf Tour came just three tournaments into his professional career, and a year after he won the Taiheiyo Masters as an amateur. He defeated countryman Tomohiro Ishizawa at the fourth hole of a sudden death playoff after they’d finished tied on 13 under.

"I knew that if I don't win my second victory since the Taiheiyo Masters, I won't be able to gain recognition so I really wanted to win as fast as I could," he said. "Every year so many great names from the world's top class has won here, so I am honoured to have my name listed among them."

Kanaya, winner of the 2018 Asia Pacific Amateur Championship, was the number one player on the World Amateur Golf Ranking when he turned professional. He won this year’s Mark H McCormack Medal as the leading amateur for 2020. Kanaya, who is still to finish his degree at Tohoku Fukushi University despite turning professional last month, took over the number one spot in 2019 and held it for 55 weeks. He became only the second player since Matsuyama to become world number one. However, Matsuyama never won the McCormack Medal.

Matsuyama has been Japan’s greatest hope for too long now. He’s currently 17th on the Official World Golf Ranking, but has been as high as second. The pressure’s been on him to become Japan’s first male major winner, a previous expectation heaped on the likes of Tommy Nakajima, Isao Aoki and the Ozaki brothers – Jumbo, Jet and Joe. Matsuyama's had seven top 10s in the tournaments that really matter, with T2 in the 2017 U.S. Open his best finish.

Japanese women have left their male counterparts behind them. Hinako Shibuno won last year’s Women’s British Open at Woburn to become the second Japanese major winner following Hisako Higuchi’s 1977 LPGA Championship victory.

Kanaya is currently 197th on the Official World Golf Ranking but projected to move to 125th with this win. Don’t be surprised if he emulates his number one amateur status by becoming the world’s number one professional at some point in his career. As respected golf writer Joy Chakravarty noted:

“Let me say it once again - former @AAC_Golf champion and world No1 amateur Takumi Kanaya is a force of nature!! An exceptionally strong short game, he has now won his first title as a professional (Dunlop Phoenix) exactly one year after winning on @JGTO_official as an amateur!!”

Former Titleist man Jonathan Loosemore is another singing Kanaya’s praises. It pays to listen to Loosemore. He’s spent 20 years monitoring the form of up and coming amateurs and now runs his own JDL Sports agency. He says:

“Sure to be the first of many professional wins for Takumi Kanaya. Has arrived on the scene without the fanfare of (Ryo) Ishikawa or the powerful dominance of Matsuyama but he could prove to be the best Japan has produced.”

Strong endorsements which need to be heeded. Remember the name: Takumi Kanaya. He might just provide the major breakthrough Japan has been waiting for.

#JustSaying: “Of the 170 who responded, seven were Japanese; but there is no record to show that any of the seven ever played the game.” The Shell International Encyclopedia of Golf on the opening of Japan’s first golf club in 1901


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Nov 24, 2020

Good point. I've seen it on the LPGA, too. Indeed, the number of media for Japanese players is incredible, even when there are only a few playing. I've watched and marveled as players have stood and patiently answered questions, sometimes an awful lot of questions.


Nov 22, 2020

One of the biggest challenges for young Kanaya going forward is the suffocating circus & pressure from the Japanese media. I saw it first hand when Ryo made his way over to the United States. It was actually no wonder he didn't do as well over here in the states as many thought he would.

It wasn't quite as tough with Hideki, but it was bad enough. Difference with Hideki was he had a game more suited for PGA Tour venues to start. Ryo didn't, and the Japan media gave him little quarter. Had Ryo been given more leeway on the expectations, I believe his story here could have been quite different.

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