TOKYO, Japan — Keita Nakajima produced a spectacular final-day birdie barrage to beat off a host of strong challengers and claim victory in the Faldo Series Asia Japan Championship.
Relying on a steady long game and a silky touch on and around the greens, the 16-year-old national squad member scattered seven birdies during a tense closing round at the Shizu Hills Country Club in the 15th leg of the record-breaking 2016-17 Faldo Series Asia season.
Although his card also included three bogeys, Nakajima signed for a four-under-par 68. It was the equal best round of the week in the R&A World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) event.
With a 54-hole aggregate of seven-under 209, Nakajima ended one shot in front of Ryo Katsumata with in-form Yusuke Sakamoto two strokes further back in a share of third place overall alongside Masaki Mikura and Miki Yamaji.
For Nakajima, the victory added credence to the critics who are already touting him as a star of the future, aiming to follow in the footsteps of Ryo Ishikawa and Hideki Matsuyama.
Runner-up in last year’s Japan Amateur Championship, Nakajima has continued to show progress in his game in 2016, most notably when winning the TrueVisions International Junior Championship in Thailand, finishing ahead of Hong Kong’s Philip D’Souza and Indian Arjun Prasad, the top two place-getters at the 10th Faldo Series Asia Grand Final.
Now Nakajima will be hopeful of repeating that success when he lines up as part of the Japan team in the 11th Faldo Series Asia Grand Final, to be hosted by Sir Nick Faldo at Laguna Lăng Cô in Danang, Central Vietnam, in March, 2017.
Six-time Major champion Faldo, Britain’s most successful golfer, said: “Judging by his results over the past 18 months, Keita is clearly an outstanding prospect. I’m sure he will be among the favourites when we meet up at Laguna Lăng Cô. I look forward to having the chance to see him in action and to work with him on his game.”
Also representing Japan in Vietnam will be Katsumata, who won the Boys’ Under-21 title in the Japan Championship for the second year in succession, Sakamoto (Boys’ Under-18 winner), Anna Kono (Girls’ Under-21 winner) and Minori Nagano (Girls’ Un-der-16).
Two shots off the pace in joint third place overnight, Nakajima displayed excellent course management in picking up shots at all four of the par-fives.
Nonetheless, it was Katsumata who raced into the lead, covering the first 10 holes in five-under. But blemishes at the 15th and 18th blotted his scorecard and saw him sign for a 69 and finish agonisingly one shot shy of forcing a play-off.
In the Boys’ Under-18 category, Sakamoto edged out Masaki Mikura. Sakamoto, who made the half-way cut in this year’s Japan Golf Tour Organisation’s Top Cup Tokai Classic and the Japan Open Championship, got the better of Mikura at the second hole of a sudden-death play-off after both players ended the regulation 54 holes at four-under 212.
In the Girls’ Under-21 category, Kono repelled late challenges from Saya Aono and Yuka Asami, while Nagano clung on for a one-stroke success from Arina Hiraki in the Girls’ Under-16 section.
Supported by The R&A and endorsed by the Asian Tour and the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation, the 2016-17 Faldo Series Asia campaign stretches over 11 months.
Spencer Robinson at email@example.com