On a muggy, overcast morning an hour’s drive west of Tokyo Sept. 8, Tom Watson stepped to the first tee and struck the opening drive of the inaugural JAL Championship. The moment itself was unremarkable, but hardly insignificant. It marked the conclusion of a sometimes tortuous, five-year process to bring the first PGA Tour-sanctioned event to Japan, the world’s second-largest golf market.
When the PGA Tour first was approached about bringing a Champions event to Japan, Miller Brady, the tour’s senior vice president and chief of operations, freely admits, “I didn’t think it was viable.”
His perspective changed 18 months ago, when he traveled to Tokyo to try to seal a deal with JAL Airlines to be the title sponsor.
“The best part was we got to the end (of our presentation), and they stood up and started clapping,” Brady recalled.
That response signaled JAL was on board as title sponsor, at least for this year. JAL decided to test the waters, then reassess after the tournament whether to renew its sponsorship for 2018 and beyond.
Massy Kuramoto – chairman of the PGA of Japan, which runs the Japanese seniors tour – was less enthusiastic, according to Brady.
“He was afraid that we were going to interfere with his current events,” Brady said.
Kuramoto, who is playing in the JAL Championship, ultimately agreed to move an event to free up space for the visit by PGA Tour Champions.
The Champions players have been enthusiastic ambassadors since arriving Sept. 4. The only downside has been the 90-minute bus ride each day from The Imperial Hotel in Tokyo to Narita Golf Club and back. But the players are sucking it up and saying all the right things.
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