Tournament article

Japan Open Golf Championship 2023

Amateur Okada takes early spotlight

Amateur Okada takes early spotlight

Another edition of the Japan Open brings another amateur ace to the fore, this time in the guise of Kohei Okada.

The 21-year-old Okada demonstrated his capability to compete with the JGTO elites by shooting a four-under-par 66, tying for the first-round lead with Mikumu Horikawa at the Ibaraki Country Club in Osaka.

The pair hold a one-shot lead over Keita Nakajima, Kota Kaneko, and Akio Sadakata, who carded matching 67s to share third place.

"I got off to a good start, which gave me some comfort. My shot, putting, and approach were in good form. However, I want to reduce my mistakes and strive for better from tomorrow," pledged Okada of Sendai-based Tohoku Fukushi University after trading six birdies for two bogeys.

Even though it's just the opening day, Okada's achievement is nothing short of impressive, serving as a swift reminder that professionals simply cannot underestimate their amateur counterparts.

Last year's tournament saw Taiga Semikawa clinch victory whilst still an amateur, making him the first to achieve such a feat in 95 years.

Okada readily acknowledges that he entered this week's major event with high ambitions, aiming to follow in the footsteps of Semikawa and carve a name for himself.

Okada also participated last year, finishing a commendable tie for 28th.

"I witnessed my senior, Semikawa's triumphant moment first-hand. I'm fully conscious of it (the chance to emulate Semikawa) — 120% so. Naturally, I don't want to lose," expressed Okada, who currently ranks No. 22 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.

"I was genuinely overwhelmed. As days passed and Semikawa began to feature prominently in the news, I realised that achieving such a feat can catapult one into the limelight. This understanding has since become a driving motivation for me. I aim to win."

However, for Okada, the allure of fame isn't solely personal. He aspires to shine a light on his roots.

"If I don't win, I'll remain unnoticed. It's not just about my passion for golf; it's about elevating my public profile. I firmly believe that people will derive joy from that. To be honest, I'm not deeply passionate about golf," he admitted with a chuckle, "but if it brings joy to the audience, then it's a pursuit worth striving for."

"I want every visitor at the golf course to recognise my name, much like how everyone recognises Matsuyama when he plays. Coming from a deeply rural area, I know that my fame would bring joy to my community.

"More than personal satisfaction, I yearn to bring happiness to others. With a plethora of supporters and well-wishing seniors behind me, I'm determined to share as much good news with them as possible."

Horikawa brilliantly birdied the last three holes, placing himself in contention for a third major title on the JGTO.


The 30-year-old, who won last year's Japan PGA Championship and the 2019 Japan Golf Tour Championship, secured a total of six birdies, offset by two bogeys.

"I'm not overly concerned about the prospect of winning a third major title," said Horikawa.

"It'd be great to clinch the third one, but it's only the first day. Just because a course suits me doesn't make it any less of a major. I value endurance over pushing boundaries."

Australian star Adam Scott, the highest-ranked player in the field at world No. 41, began his seventh appearance with a three-over-par 73, tying for 58th.

"I always look forward to playing in front of the Japanese fans. That said, the Japan Open always presents challenging conditions," Scott noted.

"To fare well, I believe I must excel in at least nine holes. I'm hopeful of achieving that tomorrow."

Leading first round scores:

66: Mikumu Horikawa, Kohei Okada (am);

67: Keita Nakajima, Kota Kaneko, Akio Sadakata;

68: Ryo Ishikawa, Ryo Hisatsune, Yuki Inamori, Terumichi Kakazu, Noriyuki Kurogi, Augri Iwasaki, Brad Kennedy, Yuta Uetake.