Semikawa becomes 1st amateur to win Japan Open in 95 years

Sports Hochi
Taiga Semikawa holds the Japan Open winner’s trophy at the Sanko Golf Club in Miki, Hyogo Prefecture, on Sunday.

For the first time in 95 years, an amateur has won the Japan Open Golf Championship.

Taiga Semikawa, a 21-year-old senior at Tohoku Fukushi University, captured the title at the Sanko Golf Club’s Japan Course in Miki, Hyogo Prefecture, on Sunday. He won by two strokes with a 10-under 270 over four rounds, despite a 3-over 73 in his final and worst round.

Semikawa is the world’s top-ranked amateur golfer and only the second amateur to capture the Japan Open since Rokuro Akahoshi won the inaugural event in 1927.

“I feel it’s a historic accomplishment,” Semikawa said about the victory in his home prefecture. “I am so happy.”

At the Panasonic Open Golf Championship in September, Semikawa became the sixth amateur to win a men’s tournament since the current tour system started in 1973. His latest victory is the first time an amateur has captured two tour titles.

His victory Sunday marked the first time an amateur has won a major on the Japan tour.

Semikawa finished the tournament leading from the first day, with Kazuki Higa, who was tied for the lead after the second round, finishing second at 8-under 272. Higa, 27, had also attended Tohoku Fukushi University.

In the final round, Semikawa looked to do well on the par-4 ninth hole where he nailed an eagle a day earlier. On Sunday, he drove his second shot into the deep rough past the green. He couldn’t recover as whiffed his approach shot not once but twice. He tallied a surprising triple bogey on the hole.

But he maintained his composure, using his driving prowess that averages 300 yards per drive, to go on a run of pars until a bogey on the 17th hole. Semikawa started the day with a six-shot lead over Higa, but entering the final par-4 18th hole, the advantage was down to two strokes. Semikawa then hit a strong drive onto the fairway and made par to seal the victory.

This was Semikawa’s third straight appearance in the Japan Open. He finished 56th last year.

As he developed himself rapidly this season, the turning point came when Semikawa won a lower-tier tour tournament in June. To win a tournament in which pro golfers also competed gave him a new outlook.

“I learned I have to be aggressive to win a tournament,” he said. “Now I can imagine winning every tournament.”

Semikawa plans to turn pro soon.

“I want to have the strongest attitude to play 18 holes and not lose against any golfer,” Semikawa said. “I have acquired a strong mental state in the past year not wanting to lose to pro golfers.”