Share this article

print logo

FOREIGNERS PASSING JUNIOR MASTERS TEST

You have to go to great lengths if you live in Japan and want your son to be a professional golfer.

One route a few wealthy Japanese parents take is the Tampa Bay International Sports School.

The school has 15 pupils, each of whom has been sent to Florida to study golf year-round, getting personal instruction and tournament experience. They attend school, as well, and it all comes at a cost of $25,000 a year.

Part of that experience is taking part this week in the International Junior Masters.

Four of the academy's pupils are among a handful who have made a long journey to the East Aurora Country Club for the tournament, which annually attracts top 17-and-under players from across the East Coast and abroad.

Among the original field of 80 were 22 foreigners -- five from Mexico, four from Japan, one from the Philippines and a dozen from Canada.

The foreign contingent represented itself well through the 36-hole stroke play portion of the event. Eleven of the 22 were among the top 32 finishers. And seven of those 11 survived the first round of match play Wednesday to reach the round of 16, which began today.

Events like the Junior Masters are almost non-existent in Japan, which explains the market for the Tampa Bay school.

"Golf is such an expensive sport, juniors aren't able to play much in Japan," said Eiji Tagashira, who owns the school and is following his pupils' progress at East Aurora. "They get done with school at 4 p.m., and it's close to a two-hour drive to the nearest course for most people. The only time you can play is on the weekend, and it's an all-day thing."

Kenji Shibata is one of the school's bright prospects. He tied for third in stroke play with a 153 total but lost in match play.

Shibata, 17, played a round of golf about once a month in Japan. But he would go to the driving range four times a week, wait an hour and a half to get on and then spend four hours banging 1,000 balls into a net 200 yards away.

Despite his lack of experience on a course, he was shooting 80 when he came to the school a year ago.

Asked the thing he likes best about the United States, Shibata said, "Golf."

"We have a lot of fun and we can play golf with just kids my own age," said Shibata, whose father owns a construction business in Japan. "The course here is tough and beautiful. The greens are very difficult."

In Shibata's opening round of 80, he had 42 putts.

Jojo Cruz, at 14 one of the youngest players at East Aurora, has no difficulty getting on a course in his homeland, the Philippines. He is the son of a teaching pro, and is the No. 5 or 6 junior in the country, said Joe Jongarcano, Cruz's chaperon and a reporter for the English-language Manila Chronicle.

Cruz got to East Aurora Monday after a 20-hour flight from Manila and shot 87 and 84. His trip is being financed by the Philippine branch of Nissan.

"Golf is No. 3 in the Philippines behind basketball and boxing," Jongarcano said. "There are 75 courses and 60 are exclusive. Eighty percent of the golfers in the country are rich. If you come from a middle-income family you can't play golf unless you're the son of a caddie or a teaching pro."

The Mexican contingent has been a force in recent years at East Aurora. Last year a Mexican reached the final. This year four of the five Mexicans were in the top 32 and two are in the final 16.

"In Mexico, we have a good group of trainers and teachers and a good national camp for young players," said Enrique Dominguez, president of the National Youth Council, the junior golf governing body that subsidizes the trip to East Aurora.

"The problem in Mexico is we don't have good competition at the university level. Players have to get into U.S. colleges to improve," Dominguez said.

Most of the top contenders -- including New York state high school champ Jonathan Doctor, Florida's Jimmy Bell, Ontario's Gordon Burns, and Mexico's Luis Aguado -- survived the first match-play round.

Orchard Park's Mark Muscato and Olean's Frank Higgins reached the round of 16.

After a morning round, the quarterfinals were to start at 12:30 p.m. today. On Friday, the semifinals start about 9 a.m., and the final follows at 2 p.m.

There are no comments - be the first to comment