Japan pro feels at home teeing off at Pearl Open
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Ann Miller
After spending the past half of his life — and pretty much all his golfing life — training here in the winter, Kiyoshi Murota probably qualifies for kama'aina rates. As a Japan Golf Tour Organization member and multimillion dollar winner, there is no need for the discount.
Murota is in 'Aiea this morning for his 23rd Hawai'i Pearl Open. The $80,000 tournament at Pearl Country Club is huge by Hawai'i standards, but relatively small for a guy used to $200,000 first-prize payoffs.
Still, Murota, 50, would not miss it. He is one of many Japan pros enticed here by the graciousness of Soichiro Honda, the late owner of PCC, tournament director David Ishii and the ambience of the event and its home.
Murota, who has won here twice since 1997, considers this a time to work on his game, chill out and take the chill off Japan's winters — not in that order.
"It's the offseason in Japan and it's cold," Murota said through an interpreter. "This is a little closer than Australia and Hawai'i is really paradise for people from Japan because you can get away with speaking Japanese. But on top of everything, the weather is just good for me."
This trip started nearly three weeks ago when he received an exemption from Turtle Bay Resort to make his American senior debut at the Turtle Bay Championship. Murota shared fourth after the first day, shaking off nerves brought on by the proximity of so many "American superstars" to shoot 69.
He ultimately won more than $20,000 for his 17th-place finish, and has golfed nearly everyday since, here and on the Big Island.
He will go home for the JGTO season, which resumes in April, then come back to the U.S. for the Senior PGA Championship in May. Murota earned a spot in that Champions Tour major by winning Japan's Senior PGA championship last year.
Murota played 10 tournaments on the PGA Tour, with his best finish 20th at the 1994 Nissan Open. He has won nine times worldwide, finished as high as sixth on the JGTO money list and won going away here four years ago with a final-round 65.
His goal this year, in his first full season as a senior, is to win once on the regular tour and once against guys his own age. His goal this week is a top-10 finish, in an event littered with gifted and often very young pros and amateurs from Hawai'i, Japan and the Mainland.
The guy who didn't take up golf until his days at Nippon Sports Science University and didn't qualify to turn pro until he was 27 and had a teaching degree as a backup, speaks softly but carries a big driver.
Murota insists he can't win on the Champions Tour either, but is adamant that Ishii, also 50, can. Both would like to try again.
"There were a lot of good players at Turtle Bay, the atmosphere was wonderful," Murota said. "It was a great tournament and I felt comfortable, real comfortable. It was more of a relaxed environment. On the regular tour, everything is boom, boom, boom."
Punahou School sophomore Stephanie Kono will join Waiakea High senior Christine Kim in the SBS qualifying round Monday at Turtle Bay's Arnold Palmer course. Kono received a sponsor's exemption while Kim earned her entry during an all-amateur qualifying contest earlier. They will compete, along with nearly 20 LPGA players, for two spots in the Feb. 16-18 tournament.
Ai Ogawa, who plays on the Japan LPGA tour, and 17-year-old amateurs Maiko Wakabayashi and Yurika Ishida are the three women playing this year. Wakabayashi tied for medalist honors with Hawai'i pro Jay Shannon at Tuesday's qualifying. Ishida was sixth. Ogawa, 21, did not need to qualify. This is her second Pearl Open appearance.
Clubs purchased at Sunday's Demo Day will be discounted 25 percent.
Reach Ann Miller at email@example.com.