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Japan’s memorable year in golf continued.
First, Japanese teen Tsubasa Kajitani won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in a playoff after a tense final round. Then Hideki Matsuyama slipped into a Green Jacket, the first Asian to do so. Later, he won on home soil at the Zozo Championship. And who could forget golf’s appearance for just the second time in more than 100 years in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Japanese golfers aren’t done yet. Last week, World No. 1 Keita Nakajima booked his ticket to Augusta National for the Masters with victory at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and on Saturday fellow countrywoman Mizuki Hashimoto shot four successive rounds of 4-under 68 to win the third edition of the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific championship by one stroke.
At Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Hashimoto finished with a 16-under total of 272 and became the second successive Japanese champion after Yuka Yasuda lifted the trophy when it was last played in 2019. The Thai duo of Kan Bunnabodee (66) and overnight leader Natthakritta Vongtaveelap (72), along with Australia’s Kelsey Bennett (68), were tied second at 15 under.
Nagano Inagaki (68), also of Japan finished fifth at 13-under, with Malaysia’s Ashley Lau (70) a shot further back in sixth.
In April this year, Japan’s Kajitani and Matsuyama were winners in back-to-back weeks at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and the Masters and a similar pattern unfolded in the UAE with Nakajima winning in Dubai last week.
In addition to the beautiful trophy, the 19-year-old Hashimoto secured berths in the 2022 AIG Women’s British Open and the 2022 Amundi Evian Championship as well as the Hana Financial Group Championship and an invitation to play in the 2022 Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
“I have always seen these tournaments on the television. To be able to play in them is like a dream-come-true for me,” said Hashimoto, ranked 121st in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. “This championship means a lot to me because the winner gets to go to the major events and I am really excited as I really want to play in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur at Augusta National. I was just trying my best.”
Mizuki Hashimoto of Japan celebrates with her fellow Japanese competitors as she wins the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific championship. (Photo by Graham Uden/R&A via Getty Images)
Hashimoto started the day three shots behind Vongtaveelap, a 19-year-old from Bangkok. With the long-hitting Thai showing great consistency – she was bogey-free for 52 holes coming into the final round – it needed something spectacular from the chasing pack to catch her.
The lead was increased to four when Vongtaveelap made a birdie on the second hole but Hashimoto holed her second shot from 135 yards for a spectacular eagle two on the 3rd to ignite her round and she followed it up with a birdie at the next after hitting her tee shot a foot from the flag.
“The eagle on the third hole was a big surprise for me. I kept fighting hard after that until I made the winning putt,” Hashimoto said.
Vongtaveelap’s resolve finally cracked on the par-4 sixth hole when she made a bogey after a poor bunker shot and that was followed by a double bogey on the par-3 seventh when she pushed her tee shot into the water.
Vongtaveelap bounced back immediately, however, with a stunning eagle on the eighth when she hit her trusted 18-degree hybrid second shot to four feet.
A Hashimoto bogey on the ninth seemed to tilt the scale in Vongtaveelap’s favor again but the Japanese player bounced back with a second shot to tap-in distance on the 11th before closing with seven pars.
Vongtaveelap still had a chance to force the issue with an eagle on the 18th but she pushed her tee shot into the water and could only make a par. Bennett, who jumped into contention with a chip-in birdie at the 13th could not pick up one last shot that could have forced the playoff.
“I’m a little disappointed but I did my best. I am so pleased that I was invited to play in this tournament. This has been a new experience and I won’t forget it,” said Vongtaveelap.
“I have learned a lot. I have never played in a championship of this stature before and I have never been this nervous. I will keep improving my mindset and my skills.”
Bunnabodee, who started the championship with a 3-over 75 and played with an ankle injury, shot the day’s best round of 66. She had matched the low round in the history of the championship – an 8-under 64 – on the second day.
Japan’s Ayaka Tezuka made the only hole-in-one of the championship and the first of her life when she hit a perfect 8-iron shot from 133 yards on the fourth hole.