Players visit prime minister, get star treatment at Champions' 1st Japan event

Toru Yamanaka/Pool Photo via Associated Press

Players visit prime minister, get star treatment at Champions' 1st Japan event

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Players visit prime minister, get star treatment at Champions' 1st Japan event

TOKYO – One full day into the PGA Tour’s first official foray into Japan, here’s what we can say with some certainty: The over-50 players are getting more love in Tokyo than they normally get back home in America.

Fresh off a JAL Airlines 777 charter flight from the Shaw Charity Classic, eight PGA Tour Champions players visited Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his official residence. The event was held to promote the inaugural JAL Championship, being played this week at Narita Golf Club, about an hour’s drive east of Tokyo.

The tournament is the first-ever PGA Tour-sanctioned event in Japan, the world’s second-largest golf market.

On the way to meet with Abe, the players passed a scrum of some two dozen photographers, flashes blazing. Think about that. When was the last time members of the PGA Tour Champions were treated like starlets arriving for the Oscars?

Abe addressed the players and William F. Hagerty IV, the new U.S. ambassador to Japan, then accepted gifts from the players and posed for pictures. John Daly drew a big laugh from Abe when he presented him with a pair of Loudmouth slacks matching the pants he wore to the event.

Abe also expressed his hope that the JAL Championship, currently structured as a one-off, will be a recurring event. That drew a hearty amen from Champions president Greg McLaughlin.

The prime minister then high-tailed it over to the Tokyo American Club for the pro-am pairings party, where he gave an animated talk about his family’s history in golf, and his 27 holes with President Donald Trump earlier this year. He spoke to a gathering of several hundred people, which dwarfed the weekly pairings parties held at stateside Champions tournaments.

Abe recalled that his grandfather Nobusuke Kishi, who was prime minister from 1957-1960, once played golf with President Dwight D. Eisenhower at Burning Tree Club in Bethesda, Md. Kishi, according to Abe, had a serious case of first-tee jitters that day because a throng of Japanese media were on hand to watch the opening tee shots. The story goes that Kishi nutted his first drive. One senses that the story has aged well.

The lesson Abe took from that was: Keep the media off the golf course. He said he and Trump used their time together on Feb. 12 at Trump National Golf Club to begin building a working relationship, free from any media scrutiny. For the record, Abe insists that he, like his grandfather, pured his opening tee shot that day. The prime minister said, however, that the outcome of his match with Trump will remain “a state secret.”

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