PGA Tour Champions met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, Japan.
Eight PGA Tour Champions players were star stricken as the doors to the Imperial Palace opened to dozens of camera flashes, making the inaugural of the Japan Airlines Championship a day to remember.
Shinzō Abe welcomed John Daly, Jay Haas, Billy Andrade, Olin Browne, Tom Lehman, Scott McCarron, Larry Nelson and Tom Watson to the event as 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 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.
“My grandfather (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. “It was indeed worthwhile being able to create a trusted relationship between our two leaders,” Abe said. “I believe that through golf, our relations continue to unify the two nations and 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 that competed 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. ““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.
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.
No one from Japan has ever won a major, but 25 year old Hideki Matsuyama, No. 4 player in the FedExCup standings, tied for second at this year’s US Open. This has been the best season a Japanese player has ever had on the PGA TOUR winning three times, including two World Golf Championships events, and has three runner-up finishes.
“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.”
In a recent news conference, PGA TOUR Champions President, Greg McLaughlin said “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 around the world.”