Seven Australians and New Zealand’s Michael Hendry will tee it up in the Token Homemate Cup this week, the first event in Japan for the 2019 Japan Golf Tour season. Heading into his fifth year in Japan, Victorian Matthew Griffin shares his experiences of playing in the Land of the Rising Sun.
One of the best parts of playing in Japan – apart from the amazing food – is the group of Aussie guys we have up here.
The majority of the guys are in their mid-30s to mid-40s and most nights we’ll catch up for dinner.
Even though we're playing an individual sport everyone is happy for the others to play well, so much so that it’s almost like having a mini-family with you in Japan.
As golfers, we’re all pretty tight with our money by nature but if someone has a top finish they might be nice and shout the rest of the guys.
The only rule that we have is that if you win a tournament you have to shout all the Australian players and caddies to a night out. You just hope that might not be on the Sunday night because that can get a bit expensive.
Brad Kennedy was the only one who had a win in Japan last year but it took a little while before ‘BK’ put his hand into his pockets.
In his defence, he did win the SEGA SAMMY Cup on the Sunday night before everyone had to leave so he had to wait for the right time for everyone to be available.
As I mentioned, the food in Japan is incredible.
Where we are playing this week in Nagoya has a famous ramen shop next to our hotel so I'm counting down the days until I can get stuck into one of those. When I first went up there, I didn't want to go near ramen but now I absolutely love it.
It’s actually made it harder to eat Japanese food back in Australia because it's just not the same.
The lifestyle over there is very different. The hotel rooms are tiny.
Once you get to know Japan it’s a really easy place to get around but initially it can be quite intimidating because you've got so many options with trains. Now I feel like I can go up there and almost do it blindfolded.
We get to visit some amazing cities throughout Japan over the course of the season but my favourite is Kyoto; we just don’t get the chance to go there often enough.
It's a really old-school city. Tokyo is a wonderful place but it's a bit like a concrete jungle whereas Kyoto is old-school Japan. You can imagine going back a couple of hundred years there which is really nice. There are a few temples around and some nice walks you can go on; I really enjoy Kyoto.
The golf itself is also very different, even to a nearby country such as Korea.
The courses are tougher, there’s a lot more rough and the greens have got a slope on them so you've really got to play smart golf in Japan.
In that sense it's ideal for me. I've always been a relatively consistent golfer. Hit the ball pretty straight and putt well when I'm on.
The first couple of years I struggled with my driver up there and the last couple of years I've driven it well which is really important in Japan. If you're not in play off the tee you can't play up there.
Up until last year I always felt like I was battling to keep my card.
I was fighting through the whole year to do that whereas last year I was able to get that done pretty early, finished 29th on the moneylist and gave myself a number of chances to win.
The aim this year is to keep putting myself in contention to hopefully get that first win in Japan.
I measure success by consistent finishes and that’s where I was really happy last year.
In 19 events I finished in the top-20 seven times. That shows that you're consistently around the mark and you're giving yourself the opportunities to get a win.
Sometimes you need a little bit of luck to win and last year I felt like I gave myself chances, especially at the Japan PGA. I probably did everything well enough to win that week but it just didn’t fall my way.
The reality is that I could play really well all year this year and not get a win or I could play not quite as well and maybe get a win on the right week.
For the first time this year Japan will host a PGA TOUR event – the Zozo Championship in October.
We’re hearing that the top-6 on the Japan moneylist at that time will receive starts which would be an amazing opportunity.
Prize money that week is worth close to $US10 million and given that we will be playing in Japan where we are already comfortable, it puts you at an advantage straight away.
If you said to me now that I could play another 15 years in Japan I'd be happy but I still have that picture of one day ideally making it into Europe or the US.
It's more trying to create the opportunity to do that. I wouldn't leave Japan to go to a tour school to go to either Europe or the US but if I won one of the co-sanctioned events that we have in Australia that got me to Europe then I'd go and play there.
If I could finish top two or three on the moneylist that would also give me the opportunity to play a few co-sanctioned events and a couple of WGCs.
But for now it’s trains, tiny hotel rooms and as much ramen as I get my hands on.
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