Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe welcomed eight PGA Tour Champions players at the Imperial Palace yesterday as the country geared up for this week’s inaugural Japan Airlines Championship, the first official PGA Tour event in Japan.
Billy Andrade, Olin Browne, John Daly, Jay Haas, Tom Lehman, Scott McCarron, Larry Nelson and Tom Watson headline the 63-player field for the US$2.5 million event, which tees off this Friday at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Narita Golf Club.
Abe noted golf’s diplomatic impact and how the sport helped unify Japan and the United States after World War II. His grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, was Japan’s Prime Minister from 1957 to 1960, and Kishi’s relationship with US President Dwight D. Eisenhower was largely formed on the golf course.
“(Kishi) said that the relationship between the two countries became as close as ever and the leaders’ friendship on the golf course extended further, leading them to take on the efforts of amending the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, which now builds the foundation of today’s Japan-U.S. alliance,” Abe said.
Abe has followed in his grandfather’s footsteps, as he played 27 holes with US President Donald Trump in February. He teased about the precise outcome of the match, saying the scores were “state secrets” but emphasized that golf continues to unify the two nations.
“It was indeed worthwhile being able to create a trusted relationship between our two leaders, much more than a summit meeting between two leaders,” Abe said. “I believe that the Japan-U.S. relations have been forged by support from many people from all over the countries, and I do hope that through golf we’ll be able to further foster our trust and friendship that we have forged between our two countries of United States and Japan.”
On behalf of the players competing in the Japan Airlines Championship, Watson echoed Abe’s sentiments.
“I share your understanding of how golf brings people together. I’ve been coming to Japan for many years, as Larry Nelson and many of us have, to play professional golf. We’re very lucky to be able to play a game for a living and compete around the world. Japan is one of our favorite places to come and we’ll be coming back again,” said Watson, who is the owner of two Dunlop Phoenix victories on the Japan Golf Tour, in 1980 and 1997.
Photo: (L to R) Tom Lehman, Tom Watson, Scott McCarron, Jay Haas, Olin Brown, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, John Daly, Billy Andrade, Larry Nelson and Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura