This month ‘Living Golf’ is in Japan, a country that can boast the second largest golf market in the world behind the United States. It’s a country that has fallen in love with the game and its traditions. But also where the economic recession in the 1990’s threatened the survival of many clubs. With the emergence of cash rich regions such as China and the United Arab Emirates dominating where the game is played in the East, some say Japan has become the forgotten land of golf.
It’s not all doom and gloom however. CNN presenter Shane O’Donoghue travels around the capital of Japan, Tokyo, to showcase how the game is starting to prosper once again. Thanks to the emergence of Hideki Matsuyama as a world star, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics that will feature the game; and the expansion of junior programmes around the country, the sport is back on the rise.
We also look at golf’s place in the country’s culture and specifically Manga, a comic style of art that is synonymous with Japan. We profile ‘Golf Lesson Comic’, a manga magazine that specialises in tips and instruction on the game.
Finally, Shane plays a round of golf with Isao Aoki, a national icon and a trailblazer for Japanese golf around the world. Aoki won 71 professional tournaments across six different tours; and became the first Japanese player to win a PGA tour event as well as be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Isao Aoki on his inspiration:
“Obviously once I’d turned pro and watched golf on TV I’d look at the big three of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player to try to work out which of them I was like in my style of play. Of them all, it was Arnold Palmer that inspired me the most.”
Isao Aoki on his success in America:
“When I first went to America, my inability to speak English gave me a real complex. But I asked myself what I was there for, and that was to play golf. So I told myself that even if I couldn’t speak the language, playing would help me get heard. The fact that I was able to make friends without speaking the language, first with Jack Nicklaus, then Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Greg Norman, Tom Watson, there were lots of them, and the they knew I was trying my hardest to talk to them. I guess was my salvation.”
Isao Aoki on the tournament that changed his golfing career:
“I didn’t feel the excitement until it was over, when I realised that I’d gone really close. From then on, I started to see the world differently in golfing terms, realising that if I went to Europe or Australia, or America for that matter, that I might be able to win. In that sense, the four days at Baltusrol were a big part of my life, and it was one of the tournaments that changed my career. Even though I didn’t win, the fact that Isao Aoki battled with Jack Nicklaus over four days has gone down in golfing history. I hope that some day a Japanese golfer will win the US Open or another major. It hasn’t happened yet, but I do feel that a major champion is going to emerge at some point in the future.”
Isao Aoki on his putting stroke:
“Five or six years after I turned pro, I switched from standing further back with a long putter to a shorter style, which I’ve been using ever since. I’ve tried doing, you know, like this, in what they call the orthodox way, but it wouldn’t go in for me. So I just kept going with what I had. I don’t like to do things the unusual way. But I’m proud of having developed my own style.”
Isao Aoki on his life after retiring from professional golf:
“I don’t see myself as being famous. What I did, was dedicate myself to golf, and the fact that people accepted that and allowed me to play golf, is why I’m where I am today.”
Isao Aoki on what more he wants to give to the game of golf:
“In the world of golf, I’ve come all the way since I was a youngster, through the different eras. I don’t know what will come next, but I guess the onus is on us to lead it.”
‘Living Golf’ microsite: http://edition.cnn.com/sport/golf