Tokyo, Japan: Arina Hiraki will be aiming to follow in the footsteps of Suzuka Yamaguchi when she tees-off at this week’s Faldo Series Japan Championship.
One of the brightest golfing prospects in Japan, Hiraki had a front row seat as Yamaguchi created history with her victory in the 12th Faldo Series Asia Grand Final at Laguna Lăng Cô in Danang, Vietnam in March.
Almost lost in the midst of the euphoria surrounding Yamaguchi’s success, the first by a female in Faldo Series Asia history, was the fact that Hiraki finished third overall and had the distinction of winning the Girls’ Under-16 title.
For good measure, Hiraki also produced the shot of the week, making a hole-in-one at the short fifth, where she struck a sweet pitching wedge.
In the absence of LPGA Tour-bound Yamaguchi this year, Hiraki, who turned 16 in September, is certain to be among the favourites in the 54-hole Faldo Series Japan Championship at Shizu Hills Country Club (November 7-9).
On the back of her triumphs in the IMG Academy Junior World Florida Challenge at the end of last year and the Faldo Series Asia Grand Final, Hiraki rose to 288th in The R&A World Amateur Golf Ranking.
Having recently slipped out of the top-500, Hiraki knows that a strong showing in the seventh leg of the 2018-19 Faldo Series Asia season would enable her to improve her standing and boost her confidence.
A further incentive is the knowledge that all age group winners at Shizu Hills will qualify for the 13th Faldo Series Asia Grand Final at Laguna Lăng Cô, to be hosted by Sir Nick Faldo, in March, 2019 – and offer the opportunity to emulate Yamaguchi, who last week secured her playing rights for the 2019 LPGA Tour via the Q-Series.
Six-time Major champion and tournament founder Faldo said: “Traditionally, the Faldo Series Japan Championship has been among the best supported tournaments on our schedule and this year is no exception.
“At the qualifying round in September there were 220 players and the country final will have a field of 140. My thanks go to Masahiro Kimura and his team for their hard work in ensuring the continued success of the championship.
“They deserve a lot of credit for the success of players such as Suzuka Yamaguchi and Nasa Hataoka, who won the Girls’ Under-16 title in the Faldo Series Asia Grand Final in 2016.
“This year, Nasa posted her maiden LPGA Tour triumph at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship and made it into a play-off at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the third Major of 2018.
“When I watched her play two years ago, it was clear that she possessed star quality. The challenge for her now is to maintain the levels of excellence she has shown in the past fortnight.
“Her rapid rise will act as an inspiration to all those who take part in the Faldo Series. The quality of play in our tournaments around the world is extremely high and Nasa’s success further illustrates the benefits for these young players of taking part in high-level junior and amateur events.”
The 2018-19 Faldo Series Asia season is supported by The R&A and endorsed by the Asian Tour and the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation. The International Junior Golf Academy is a partner of the Faldo Series.
As well as two events in China, India and Thailand, championships are being staged in Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Chinese-Taipei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.