Make it two in a row for Japan.
A year after Takumi Kanaya won the Mark H. McCormack Medal as the world’s top amateur, his countryman Keita Nakajima received the honor on Wednesday after keeping his No. 1 position in the World Amateur Golf Ranking following the U.S. Amateur at Oakmont.
“I want to give many thanks for the support of my family, university, national team coaches and teammates. Without them, I could not have achieved this,” said Nakajima, a rising junior at Nippon Sport Science University in Tokyo. “I am also very proud and honored to be awarded the medal following Takumi Kanaya. My next goal is to demonstrate my abilities on the world stage with confidence.”
Nakajima's achievement, which earned him starts in next summer's U.S. Open at The Country Club and Open Championship at St. Andrews, comes a week after Rose Zhang won the McCormack on the women's side.
Despite his title as world No. 1, Nakajima has played mostly in Japan in the past two years and mainly professional tournaments on the Japan Tour, though the pandemic has certainly affected his competition schedule. In the last 12 months, Nakajima has teed it up nine times, seven of those on the Japan Tour with three top-10s, including a runner-up at the Token Homemate Cup last April.
His two amateur appearances came recently, at the Japan Amateur, which he won, and last week’s U.S. Amateur, where he tied for 214th out of 310 players and missed match play.
Nakajima’s pro-heavy schedule proved the difference in Nakajima finishing almost 100 average points ahead of No. 2 Pierceson Coody of Texas. Nakajima’s runner-up finish on the Japan Tour earned him about 27.6 points, which was almost three full points more than Michigan State’s James Piot got for winning the U.S. Amateur. Also, Nakajima’s missed cut at the Mori Building Cup netted him about 8.5 points, which was slightly more than a point less than Coody got for his top-10 finish at the NCAA Noblesville Regional.
For further comparison, Nakajima is No. 42 in the Scratch Players World Amateur Ranking.
When Kanaya won last year, he only had one amateur tournament on his resume, but it was a runner-up at the Asia-Pacific Amateur. He was also third at the Australian Open, won on the Japan Tour and made the Round of 32 at the U.S. Amateur at Bandon Dunes.
While Nakajima struggled at Oakmont, he did leave a good impression with his affable personality and textbook golf swing. However, his McCormack win does raise some questions: Do the world rankings weight pro tournaments too highly? Should McCormack winners be required to play a certain amount of amateur events? Can a player be the No. 1 amateur without consistently competing against other top amateurs?
Nakajima is certainly a talented player – one of the best in the world even – but it's all something to consider.