Keita Nakajima secured the title of the JGTO Money Rankings for the 2023 season with a decisive fourth-place finish at the Casio World Open on Sunday, sealing the season-long race with one event remaining on the schedule.
The 23-year-old closed with a four-under-par 68 for a total of 12-under at Kochi Kuroshio Country Club, finishing two shots behind the winner, Taichi Nabetani.
This performance underlines Nakajima's exceptional consistency throughout the season, featuring three victories and nine top-five finishes.
This week's effort elevated Nakajima's season earnings to a substantial ¥172,486,179, establishing an unassailable lead over the closest competitor, Takumi Kanaya (¥128,662,332), with a significant gap of ¥43,823,847 ahead of the season-ending Golf Nippon Series JT Cup next week.
Although Nakajima has secured the Prize Money King title, he will put the celebration on hold as he channels his focus on winning the JT Cup, contested by only the top 30 performers of the season.
"I'm happy. But honestly, there is still one more tournament, and there is a player (Nabetani) who won this week, so I didn't win this week. I want to win next week, so it's too early to celebrate," said Nakajima.
It was certainly a remarkable achievement for Nakajima, considering he turned professional just last fall.
He was also quick to acknowledge that his fiercely fought battle with Kanaya brings out the best in him.
Asked if he saw himself achieving this feat this early, he said, "I never thought about when it would happen. This year, competing with Kanaya-san, realizing the significance of aiming for the Prize Money King, and achieving the result after a year of hard work is what matters most.
"If it weren't for the competition with Kanaya-san, I don't think I could have played persistently until the end. It was a great match against the best opponent."
Nakajima dedicated his triumph to a close friend who passed away recently.
"I wanted to secure the Prize Money King title for him, and believing that he was watching over me, I feel that his power contributed to my confidence in accomplishing this feat," he said.
Despite Kanaya's desperate need for a win this week to keep his slim hopes alive, he could only manage a joint seventh-place finish after posting a 72 for a 10-under total, despite starting the day as one of the five co-leaders.
Kanaya congratulated Nakajima, with whom he played on the Japan national team, hailing him as a "stand-out player."
Reflecting on his performance, Kanaya remarked: "In a crucial situation where only winning would suffice, I struggled in the first half and couldn't perform at my best due to the pressure. I recognize that there's still room for improvement in my skills."
Acknowledging Nakajima's consistent excellence throughout the year, particularly under pressure in the final stages, Kanaya genuinely congratulated him for the outstanding play displayed.
He shared: "I told him, 'You're really strong.' We've been through a lot together since our amateur days, and I've seen Nakajima's ambitious goals and unwavering commitment to golf make him stand out from other players. I believe these qualities have significantly contributed to his impressive achievements."