PALM HARBOR, Fla. – The distance between Tokyo and Tampa is more than 7,000 miles, but many in the field at the Transitions Championship are feeling the effects of the earthquake and tsunami that affected the island nation in the past two weeks.
Ryuji Imada, who lives in Tampa, was born in Hiroshima and lived there until age 14, when he moved to the U.S. Imada attended the University of Georgia, started his professional career in 2000 on the Nationwide Tour and made the jump to the PGA Tour in 2005.
With Japan in peril, Imada wanted to help. After talking with Vijay Singh, Imada followed Singh’s advice of drafting a handwritten letter asking for the help of his PGA Tour brethren.
Imada drafted the letter on Wednesday and then made 150 copies to be put in each of the players’ lockers and posted in prominent places in the locker room.
“I’m just trying to help,” Imada said from his home in Tampa on Sunday. “Something terrible happened, and I just wanted to do what I could.”
Missing the cut on Friday, Imada was unaware of those who were participating because he talked with only about 10 players who had committed to his request on Thursday and Friday. By Sunday, he was heartened by the actions of his friend and fellow Bulldogs teammate Bubba Watson, who donated a check for $50,000 after his final round.
“I grew up playing with Ryuji, talking to him and seeing how it affected his home country, and knowing when stuff happens around here, we get behind it all the way,” Watson said. “Even though I don’t have an influence there, Ryuji is a good friend of mine. We went to the same school, and then seeing K.J. (Choi) donated some money just hit me, hit my heart, and I knew I should do something.”
Bobby Gates and Brandt Snedeker also decided to participate, with Gates donating $250 for each birdie and Snedeker $500.
“It was more talking with the guys, being a Bridgestone guy. They have had a lot of people affected over there in Japan, the employees or factories kind of getting lucky they were not hit or anything like that. But they said they were being affected by it over there,” Snedeker said. “Obviously, the whole country has been affected, so they have been great to me over the past 10 years, and all I can do is try to help out the people back in Japan who have been so supportive of me.”
Many players, such as Mark Wilson and Joe Durant, intend to donate as well, but are looking for the PGA Tour for guidance regarding a more concerted effort. The Tour has created a link on the players-only Tour Links website, but that is likely just the start.
“I just haven’t decided what I want to do yet,” Stewart Cink said of the disaster in Japan. “I might participate in that at the end of the week, I just haven’t decided. But I’ve been asked about this a few times, and I don’t really want to say either way because it doesn’t sound good if you say no, but I’m going to do something; I don’t know what it’s going to be yet.”
David Toms experienced a similar situation in trying to help the people displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Sitting in his house in Shreveport, Toms decided to do what he could for those who were temporarily relocated from New Orleans to Shreveport, but with a twist. Rather than going through a relief agency with administrative overhead, Toms made a more direct intervention. That hasn’t been an option for Imada.
“Instead of just helping a lot of people with a little bit,” Toms said, “we took a few people and gave them a lot, whether we found them housing and jobs and things like that, because we felt that was the biggest impact.”