A Yen to Golf

Can the desire to win transform Japan’s gung ho golfers into pros?

GOLF PROS AT COLUMBIA Lakes Resort in West Columbia may soon reveal whether some people are born to golf or whether it’s all in their heads. The Japanese are banking on brains, not brawn. So much so that they have sent eight female golfers, ages 17 through 24, to Columbia Lakes for two years’ worth of studying and playing with pro Kathy Whitworth. Even though the Japanese are golf-crazy, no Japanese golfer has ever won a major Professional Golf Association or Ladies Professional Golf Association tournament. They revere Whitworth for her success at winning. With 88 wins to her credit, the 53-year-old Whitworth, reason the Japanese, should be the best person to teach them how to compete with the best of the pros.

Electronics giant Fuji Television and the HoriPro Talent Agency hired Whitworth to select eight students from three thousand eager candidates. Six were already accomplished golfers, while two were athletes who had never picked up a club. All eight were highly competitive. Even though the two nongolfers lagged years behind in technique, could they still master the game—just because they wanted to? Instructors Mark Steinbauer and Betsy Cullen explain, “We are now seeing how quickly nongolfers can learn the game.”

The young women were selected for their athletic skills, and with their daily workout schedule, athleticism should get them a long way if that is really the key. Three mornings a week are spent walking the course, weight training, playing volleyball, biking, and doing aerobics. Afternoons are for practicing with instructors and playing (because of the high cost of golf in Japan, the women hadn’t played much on actual courses), and English classes are four nights a week.

Next April another group of eight women will come to the U.S.; the eight who are already here will return to Japan in time for pro-qualifying exams in December 1993. So far, the golfers who have improved the most are the two zero-based golfers, although they aren’t yet as good as their six experienced counterparts. But maybe their drive to succeed will be more than enough. As Steinbauer says, “Mechanics wasn’t what the Japanese wanted from the program anyway—they wanted us to teach them how to win.”

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