Tokyo, Japan: Teenage golfing prodigy Suzuka Yamaguchi survived a last-day scare to emerge triumphant in the Faldo Series Japan Championship.
Six strokes clear of Yusuke Sakamoto after 36 holes, Yamaguchi, who qualified for the 2015 US Women’s Open when aged 14, was expected to enjoy a final-round stroll at the Shizu Hills Country Club in the eighth leg of the 2017-18 Faldo Series Asia season.
However, it did not turn out that way with Yamaguchi eventually prevailing by the slimmest of margins after a gutsy display over the closing stretch that saw her complete the last six holes in two-under.
Thanks to that strong finish, Yamaguchi signed off with a 76 for a three-day aggregate of two-under 214 – one shot ahead of Sakamoto, who was left to rue a last-hole bogey.
Consolation for Sakomoto came from the fact that he topped the standings in the Boys’ Under-21 category to secure himself a place alongside Yamaguchi in the Japanese contingent for the 12th Faldo Series Asia Grand Final at Laguna Lăng Cô in March, 2018.
Also making the trip to Vietnam will be Shinnosuke Tanaka (Boys’ Under-18 winner), Ryuta Suzuki (Boys’ Under-16 winner) and Arina Hiraki (Girls’ Under-16 winner).
Yamaguchi, in particular, is looking forward to meeting up again with tournament founder Sir Nick Faldo at the Grand Final, where she hopes to contend.
Yamaguchi, who turned 17 in August, qualified for the 10th Faldo Series Asia Grand Final at China’s Mission Hills in 2016 but, by her own admission, failed to perform to the standards she expected of herself, placing seventh among the girls.
“I was not satisfied with that performance,” said Yamaguchi, 250th in The R&A’s World Amateur Golf Ranking. “That’s why I wanted to win the Faldo Series Japan Championship this year so that I can go to the Grand Final again.”
Widely tipped for a bright future in the game, Yamaguchi has already played in six Japan LPGA Tour events this year and made her LPGA Tour debut in April’s Lotte Championship presented by Hershey in Hawaii, won by Cristie Kerr.
Yamaguchi was quick to stamp her mark at Shizu Hills, snaring six birdies and an eagle in a blistering opening 66 that gave her a four-stroke cushion from Sakomoto, who tied for second place in the Boys’ Under-18 category at the 11th Faldo Series Asia Grand Final in March.
With an even-par 72 on day two, she extended her advantage to six although Sakomoto closed the gap back to four strokes with nine holes remaining. It was then that Yamaguchi wobbled, her only double-bogey of the week at 11 and a bogey at 12 enabling Sakomoto to draw level.
Undeterred, Yamaguchi quickly regained her composure, picking up shots at 13 and 15 before parring her way home to complete a wire-to-wire victory.
Six-time Major champion Faldo, Britain’s most successful golfer, said: “Congratulations to Suzuka and Yusuke for putting on such a thrilling finish. I’m delighted that they’ll both be competing in the 12th Faldo Series Asia Grand Final. Based on their experience and recent performances, I’m sure they’ll be among the favourites when we all meet in Vietnam early next year.”
The 2017-18 Faldo Series Asia season is supported by The R&A and endorsed by the Asian Tour and the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation. The International Junior Golf Academy is a partner of the Faldo Series.
As well as two events in China, India and Thailand, championships are being staged in Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Chinese-Taipei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.