PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – The U.S. Amateur field’s average age is 22.39. That’s around the same age former Major League Baseball pitcher Shigetoshi Hasegawa took up the game.
When the former Angel and Mariner kicked off his first USGA appearance at Riviera Country Club, he couldn’t help but notice that competitors were the same age as his son.
“That’s kind of weird, but it was fun,” he said.
Hasegawa struggled to an opening 81, including bogeys on his first seven holes and an opening-nine 42. But he flashed the trademark smile that made him a fan favorite during his stints in Seattle and Orange County. The 49-year-old starter-turned-reliever compiled a 45-43 record, a career 3.70 ERA and earned All-Star honors in 2003 for the Mariners.
So how did he feel teeing off on Riviera’s world-famous elevated first hole compared to his MLB career debut?
“You’re in front of 50,000 you know, it’s a little different,” he said with a chuckle. “Here, I had like maybe 20 or 30 people, I was not nervous at all. I got more nervous for my first SCGA event, but now I have a little experience.”
Hasegawa qualified at his home course, Mission Viejo Country Club. He currently works as a senior advisor for the Orix Buffaloes, scouting American players who might fit with the Japanese team. Hasegawa also remains an advisor to the Angels as a spring training instructor.
The 5-foot-11, 170-pound right-hander has attended the Genesis Open and laughed about the “final-round settings” at Riviera, which sported a surprisingly difficult setup. He was supported on the bag by a long-hitting local friend Yuya Okada, brother to current Orix Buffaloes star Takahiro Okada
During his playing career, Hasegawa played off-season rounds with Ichiro Suzuki and Jeff Nelson when with the Mariners, though he noted how position players almost never play during the season because of the schedule or fear of hurting their swing. So he stuck with the relief core.
“The coaches said, it’s better than drinking late at night, so just get up and early and play nine holes and come out to the field after to play, so I did it all the time.”
His competitive instinct to coach baseball after retiring in 2005 was not strong, so Hasegawa realized he “needed something” and took to refining his golf game. Of late, he’s set the PGA Tour Champions as a goal, though he even laughed at that.
“But I think I have to hit it 300 for the senior tour,” he said, downplaying that he still moves the ball pretty decently. Unfortunately, comparing yourself to the U.S. Amateur field, where eye-popping length is on display, could be discouraging.
Hasegawa said his goal for the week was to make match play like everyone else in the field, not to post an 81. Sitting with a group of press following the round, his marker’s notes portion of the scorecard and pencil still in hand, Hasegawa was good natured about the result in part thanks to a nice string of pars to end the round, including at Riviera’s difficult 18th.
“The good thing is that I didn’t give up, even with 81,” Hasegawa said. “So I’m just going to try to focus all the time. Three years ago, if I shot 80, oh, ok, that’s it. But it’s not the way (to play). There are no pitching changes for the golfer.”