By Tomoko Katsumata / Yomiuri Shimbun SportswriterOn the LPGA of Japan tour this season, the first five tournaments were won by Japanese golfers, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in 14 years.
The winners of four of the five competitions were golfers who have been selected for this fiscal year’s Japanese Olympic Committee athlete enhancement program.
With less than 500 days to go until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the results show competition is increasing among players hoping to win a spot on the national team.
Olympic golf consists of men’s and women’s events, with 60 players competing in each. Those eligible to compete will be chosen based on the world rankings, as of June 22, 2020, for men and one week later for women.
Participating countries and regions will basically place two players each for the men’s and women’s events, but this allocation can increase up to four if the participating country or region has two or more golfers ranked in the top 15 in the world. Japan is likely to send two golfers each to the men’s and women’s tournaments. Nasa Hataoka, the 20-year-old who is currently fifth in the women’s world rankings as of May 6, is the only Japanese player ranked in the top 15.
In recent years, women’s tournaments in Japan have been dominated by South Korean players, as evidenced by Jiyai Shin, the winner of the season’s sixth event.
This season, Japanese women have collected more than four consecutive victories since the opening tournament of the year for the first time since 2005, when the run was extended to the first 11 events.
This was also the first time in six years for a Japanese woman to win the season-opening tournament, as Mamiko Higa, 25, took the championship in her home prefecture of Okinawa.
“I can’t earn an Olympic berth unless I keep winning,” said Higa, ranked 46 overall as the No. 3 Japanese female player. “I’ll do my utmost to grab a spot by trying to win every tournament every week.”
Ai Suzuki, also 25, won the season’s second tournament and is ranked 27th in the world.
“I want to shoot for the Olympics as I’m in my prime in terms of my age,” she said.
Inspired by these two golfers’ performances at the start of the season, Misuzu Narita won the season’s fifth tournament, raising her rank to the 56th and becoming the domestic No. 4.
“Someone like me who is ranked lower has to win titles,” the 26-year-old said. “It’ll be a shame if I cannot compete in the Olympics because I’ve been saying that I will win the gold.”
According to Narita’s calculations, she has to win at least five tournaments this season to raise her ranking enough to gain a berth to the Olympics.
Higa, Suzuki and Narita also aim to compete in majors overseas to help them get as many points as possible to move up in the rankings. Contenders were competing for spots at the 2016 Rio Olympics up until the U.S. Women’s Open in July, just before the Olympics, as they were separated by the narrowest of margins.
Competition for a Tokyo Olympics spot will also be fierce, as several contenders will be in the mix, including Harukyo Nomura, the 26-year-old No. 121 player who finished fourth at the Rio Olympics and plays mainly in the United States.Speech