ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES | Mizuki Hashimoto, spectacular on two holes and rock solid on the remaining 70, triumphed at the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific Championship and firmly established her credentials as a future star of the sport.
The diminutive 19-year-old from Hyōgo made it a week to remember and capped an extraordinary year for golf in Japan, securing the nation’s second successive Asia-Pacific title after Yuka Yasuda’s triumph in 2019. The region’s premier amateur event, held at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, was returning to the schedule following a pandemic-related gap in 2020.
Hashimoto’s win continues Japan’s remarkable year in the game. In April, Tsubasa Kajitani and Hideki Matsuyama were winners in back-to-back weeks at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and at the Masters, respectively. And a similar story unfolded in the UAE with WAGR No 1 Keita Nakajima preceding Hashimoto by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship down the road in Dubai last week.
For three days and two holes, however, Hashimoto remained in the shadow of the long-hitting Natthakritta Vongtaveelap. The Thai woman had won 19 World Amateur Golf Ranking point events in her past 32 starts in domestic events in the past two-year cycle. Playing her first international event, she immediately grabbed attention.
Back home, Vongtaveelap’s friends call her “Sim 300.” It used to be just “Sim,” but the 300 got added to it because of her phenomenal driving distance. The nickname is a dead giveaway of what she averages off the tee – 300 yards – among the longest in the women’s elite game. Anne van Dam, the stat leader on the LPGA, averages 291.68 yards this season.
“It was very intimidating to see (Natthakritta) Vongtaveelap hitting it 70 to 80 yards past me every time.”
Vongtaveelap, who celebrated her 19th birthday on the Monday of championship week, made only one mistake in the first three days – a bogey on her second hole of the tournament, the par-5 second. By the time she reached the third hole in Saturday’s final round, her sensational long game had combined well with her silken touch around the greens and she had opened a four-shot lead ahead of Hashimoto.
If Vongtaveelap was swashbuckling, the Japanese player was serene. She had put together three rounds of 4-under-par 68s without a hint of flamboyance. But as the finishing line drew closer, she needed something extraordinary to rein in the Thai.
Hashimoto finally found the club to counter Vongtaveelap’s driver: her 8-iron.
On the par-4 third hole, Hashimoto used it for her second shot from 135 feet. It pitched 4 feet past the hole and then slowly spun back into the cup. The eagle narrowed the gap considerably, but equally impressive was her next shot. On the 137-yard, par-3 fourth, she hit her 8-iron once again, and almost holed it once again. The birdie from tap-in distance took her to within one shot of the leader.
The 8-iron came handy once again on the 11th hole, where she made her only birdie of the back nine, hitting her second shot to less than 2 feet.
Vongtaveelap helped Hashimoto’s cause with a bogey on the sixth hole, followed by a pushed tee shot into the water for a double bogey on the seventh. Even though she recovered with an eagle on the par-5 eighth, Hashimoto slowly narrowed her rival’s chances with one solid par after another.
It was Hashimoto’s second trip outside Japan and it resulted in a second international win for the student from Takigawa Daini Senior High School, who now has followed in the footsteps of players like Hideki Matsuyama and former WAGR No 1 Takumi Kanaya by attending Tokyo Fukushi University. In January 2020, she travelled to the US and won the Junior Orange Bowl International.
“The thing that impressed me most about (Mizuki) Hashimoto is how calm she was throughout the tournament. She just seemed unfazed by whatever was happening around her, and her temperament was very even and very good. ”
The WAAP win comes with a lot of goodies – guaranteed spots in two majors, the AIG Women’s Open and Amundi Evian Championship, as well as the Hana Financial Group Championship in South Korea and an invite to the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
Jun Nagashima, Japan Golf Association’s high-performance manager expresses no doubt Hashimoto will make her mark in these events.
“The thing that impressed me most about Hashimoto is how calm she was throughout the tournament. She just seemed unfazed by whatever was happening around her, and her temperament was very even and very good,” he said. “But she has a completely different personality when she is outside the golf course. She is very funny and she will make her teammates laugh all the time. She is very comfortable with her game and she does not get bothered by her opponents.”
“Not correct,” Hashimoto said with a smile. “It was very intimidating to see Vongtaveelap hitting it 70 to 80 yards past me every time.”
A moment at the end of the final day offered a glimpse of Hashimoto’s mindset.
On the par-5 18th hole, she hit her tee shot into the left fairway bunker, and then watched her rival whack her tee shot into the water on the left. With a one-shot advantage, Hashimoto could have been expected to come out of the bunker with a short iron, or even a wedge. But the champion used her 5-hybrid for an exquisite escape to make par.
“That hybrid is my favourite club,” she explained. “The ball was not very far from the bunker wall and I knew Vongtaveelap was not going to make an eagle. But that does not matter. I have full confidence in that club and the shot, so I did not even think of hitting anything else.”