Golf Australia

Yoshida low amateur as Japan muscles up

Jin Young Ko and Yuri Yoshida
The 2018 ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open champion Jin Young Ko and low amateur Yuri Yoshida.

Lost in the hoopla of the Korean juggernaut and the Australian challenge at the ISPS Handa Australian Open was the story of a force that is just massing its troops near the LPGA Tour border.

While 2016 champ Haru Nomura couldn’t repeat her heroics this weekend, it will soon reach the point where there’ll be ready-made replacements should she not fire.

Nasa Hataoka was the shining light at Kooyonga, picking up a tidy cheque for her T16 finish and you get the strong feeling such results will soon become a baseline.

But less than a month after Suzuka Yamaguchi and her male counterpart Keita Nakajima had become the first Japanese players to win their respective Australian Amateur Championships, another new name took her first glimpse at the big stage.

Yamaguchi had been leading amateur after the first round, but she was run down for the low amateur prize today by her countrywoman and fellow 17-year-old Yuri Yoshida.

Yoshida, on a course that gobbled up such greats names as major champions Karrie Webb, Brooke Henderson and Morgan Pressel before the cut, carved out ultra consistent rounds of 70-72-72-74 to finish even par and four strokes clear of Yamaguchi in the race for the Handa Silver Salver.

Yoshida was demonstrably happy with her victory, but in the same breath was happy to admit that her goal this week had been even higher – as if to say there will be low expectations in coming years among her compatriots.

“I wanted to finish top 10 of the tournament, but I’m very happy to be low amateur,” Yoshida said through an interpreter.

“It was a good experience to see how the LPGA Tour players play up close (and) I’m really happy to be part of the Japanese team here in Adelaide.”

It’s no coincidence that South Australia’s own Gareth Jones took the reins as national coach for Japan at the same time as the sun began to rise again over the nation’s golfing stocks.

And on his home turf, you could sense the pride in his charges’ burgeoning list of achievements.

“I’ve been working with them for two and a half years and we’ve put a good program together,” Jones said.

“The great thing is their work ethic – if we ask them to do something they do it and probably a little more. It’s probably what separates them from a lot of other players, really.”

Ominously for others further back the developmental path, Jones is confident that because there’s a whole group coming through simultaneously, they’ll push each other to even greater future heights.

“It’s very much a team culture and the older players are teaching the younger players,” he said.

“It’s building a fantastic culture there now and there are minimum standards in place now and they all expect to do it, which makes it good fun.”

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ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open
Pos.CountryPlayer TotalToday
1 KOR J.Ko -14-3
2 KOR H.Choi -11-5
3 AUS H.Green -10-3
4 AUS K.Kirk -9-7
T5 USA M.Alex -7-4
T5 AUS M.Lee -7-2
T7 ENG C.Hull -6-3
T7 THA A.Jutanugarn -6-3
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