Teary-eyed Keita Nakajima is a tough nut on golf course


The world’s No.1 amateur, Keita Nakajima, won the Panasonic Open on the first playoff hole against Ryutaro Nagano, a pro for 13 years, at the Joyo Country Club late on Sunday.

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Keita was in with a birdie chance, failed to nail it, but made the short par putt to win. “I could hear my heartbeat. I was really nervous,” said the champion.

“I am an amateur and a college student. I am grateful for having the chance to play a professional tournament.” As he spoke, tears rolled down and wet the towel.

It was a throwback to the time when he missed out on the gold medal at the 2018 Asian Championship, and shot a 80 at the US Amateur to miss cut.

Keita is known to be sentimental, but the his mentality on golf is tough. He took an oath that he will swing 1W on 14 holes to get ready for the Asian Amateur Championship in November. With heavy rain and gusty winds on Sunday, his tee shots were awry and he felt like taking his words back.

“But I told myself, I should not run away from what I promised.”

Joyo has narrow fairways and OB zones on both sides. His driving accuracy was down to 68th, but he kept swinging his 1W and stood by his word. The mental toughness made him the fifth amateur to win on the Japan Golf Tour after Massy Kuramoto, Ryo Ishikawa, Hideki Matsuyama and Takumi Kanaya.

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“I want to thank my family, teammates and coach of my college. I really enjoy playing golf with them. I have been crying lately, but I am happy to shed tears of joy.”

Keita can turn professional and earn his Tour card right away, but he will remain an amateur so that he can play the US Open and Open Championship for being the World’s No 1 Amateur. If he wins the Asian Amateur Championship in November, he will be invited to The Masters.

“My goal is to become a player who will be cheered by fans all over the world.”