The Japan Golf Tour was founded in 1973, and offers the third most prize money in professional golf (behind the PGA and European Tours). 2015 was another great year for the JGTO, with some familiar faces making waves, and new superstars rising to the challenge. Here are the main storylines from the 2015 Japan Golf Tour season.
Kyung-Tae Kim's Dominance:
K.T. Kim was one of the best golfers in Asia from 2010 to 2012, rising all the way to 25th in the Official World Golf Rankings and getting exemptions into the majors, including The Masters. He fell from the public eye over the past several years, but he returned in a huge way this year, winning five times, finishing in the top ten 14 times out of 24 tournaments played, and not missing a single cut all season. He had a stranglehold on the Money List title all season, and will receive an invitation to the WGC-Cadillac Championship and the Open Championship.
Yuzaku Miyazato's Rise To Prominence:
Once known as the older brother of LPGA professional Ai Miyazato, Yuzaku has been playing golf around the world for a long time, but had not seen the success he has seen in the past couple of years. Miyazato won his first professional tournament at the age of 33 back in 2013, and has won on Tour every year since, with his biggest victory coming this year at the Dunlop Phoenix. Miyazato finished second on the Money List, earning himself an invitation to The Open. More importantly, Miyazato has seen a rise in his World Golf Rankings. He currently sits 102nd in the OWGR, his highest ranking ever. This was by far Miyazato's best season on Tour, and he will be looking at making a push for the Money List title next season if he can continue his momentum.
Shingo Is Still The Man:
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Shingo Katayama entered this season tied for sixth on the all-time list of Japan Tour victories with 28. He broke that tie with a victory at the Taiheiyo Masters. He finished this season fifth on the Japan Tour Money List with nine top 10s, and he pushed himself up the World Golf Rankings. He currently sits 61st in the world. Shingo will tee it up this week at the Thailand Golf Championship. A victory will not only get him back into the Open Championship, but it may secure him an invitation into The Masters, as well. At 42 years old, Shingo is far from done. In fact, he may be playing some of his best golf yet.
Superstars In The Making:
The Japan Tour was dominated by established stars, but that doesn't mean some younger players didn't make waves of their own. Jung-Gon Hwang of Korea won his third Japan Tour title at the Casio World Open, one of the premier tournaments on the Japan Tour. The 23 year old finished inside the top 10 eight times, including a streak of four in a row to end the season. Yoshinori Fujimoto didn't win this season, but he did come close enough several times to finish fourth on the Money List. The 26 year old ended the season with 11 top 10s, including three runner-up finishes. He has catapulted all the way to 101st in the OWGR. Satoshi Kodaira has won a big tournament every year in the past three seasons, this one being no exception. He won the JGTO's flagship tournament, the Japan Open, and the 26 year old has established himself as someone who can win in any given week.
Long Live The Prince:
Ryo Ishikawa left the Japan Tour to play in the United States in 2012. He has not had the career success on the PGA Tour as he has had in Japan, and many thought The Bashful Prince was done being a big name player on the global stage. Ishikawa silenced a lot of doubters, as he not only retained his PGA Tour card last season, but he also won twice on the Japan Tour, including the season ending JT Cup. Ishikawa finished 6th on the Money List despite only playing in seven tournaments, and is now just outside the top 100 in the OWGR. Fans of The Prince are hoping Ishikawa can carry that momentum into the PGA Tour next year.
Iwata Says Goodbye:
After becoming the 27th player to shoot a 63 in a major and finishing inside the top 25 at the PGA Championship, Hiroshi Iwata waved goodbye to the Japan Tour and earned his PGA Tour card in the Web.com Tour finals. Iwata immediately began his PGA Tour career, a move which angered many in Japan and earned him a two year ban to the Japan Open. Iwata was one of Japan's best players this season, winning once and finishing 14th on the Money List, but now that he has his PGA Tour card, he likely won't be seen very much in Japan next season.
Tanihara Finally Wins Again:
One of the most consistent players on the Japan Tour over the past several seasons, Hideto Tanihara seemed to always find himself in contention, but he only won one time since 2010. His fortunes finally changed, as he won the Heiwa PGM Championship for his 11th Japan Tour victory. Tanihara finished the season with seven top 10s, a down year for him, but a string of good play at the end of the season boosted him to 7th on the Money List and gives him a lot of confidence entering 2016.
A Bad Year For Aussies:
Australians have made a home on the Japan Tour for a number of years, with several players experiencing success in Japan over the past few seasons. Things looked great for the Australians at the beginning of the season when Michael Hendry and Adam Bland won two of the first three events. Those would be the only Australian victories all season. Bland would only notch one more top 10 for the rest of the season, and still be the top ranked Australian in the Money List at the end of the season at 17th. Veteran Brad Kennedy would finish runner up three times, but was unable to win this season. The Australians will be happy to see the end of the this season, and will look to regroup for 2016.
Liang Plays A Global Schedule:
Wen-Chong Liang was the definition of a global player in 2015. His first event was the Sony Open on the PGA Tour. He then played twice on the European Tour, before beginning his Japan Tour season. In back to back weeks, he would notch a top 10 finish at the Gateway To The Open Mizuno Open, followed by a victory at the JGT Championship, his first Japan Tour victory. This string of great play got him exemptions into the US Open, Open Championship, and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. He would only play three more times in Japan, the final being a T6 performance at the Honma Cup, before playing on the Asian Tour, with a stop on the European Tour and the WGC-HSBC Champions thrown in, as well. Expect more of the same next season from Liang, who always plays a global schedule in an effort to boost his World Golf Ranking.