Keita Nakajima accomplished something over the weekend that so rarely happens in the golf world: he went out and proved that he was the No. 1 player in the world. Nakajima, the current No. 1-ranked golfer in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, took home the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club in a playoff to secure his bid to the 2022 Masters.Last November, Nakajima became the 42nd golfer ever to rise to No. 1 in the WAGR, and has been there for over 40 weeks over the last year. In rising to No. 1, he joined names like Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland, Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Cantlay and current No. 1 in the non-amateur rankings, Jon Rahm. However, none of his competitors cared much about any of that on Sunday when Nakajima had to shoot 68 in the final round of the event just to get into a playoff in Dubai.
After finishing at 14 under and splitting the first playoff hole with his opponent, Taichi Kho, Nakajima buried a long birdie — that he didn’t need because Kho hit his approach in the water — to win the event and effectively enter his name into the Masters as well as the 2022 Open Championship at St. Andrews. Given those two tournaments were at stake, that has to be one of the more powerful 20-footers in amateur history. Nakajima also qualified separately for the 2022 U.S. Open, which means he will be in the field at three of the four majors next year.”I am very proud of what I have achieved,” said Nakajima. “To follow in the footsteps of Hideki-san and Takumi [Kanaya] feels great. I am so excited that I will be playing three majors in 2022 I am very thankful to the tournament for giving us such great opportunities.”
As you can probably deduce by the course name, this year’s Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship was played in the UAE, which is one of 42 countries that is part of the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation. The event has been held in China, Singapore and Australia (among other countries) in the past, but this was its first visit to the UAE. The 2020 edition was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Yuxin Lin took the 2019 tournament in China (he also won in 2017). Lin finished T7 this year in Dubai.Nakajima currently attends the Japan Sports Science University and said recently that he may turn pro toward the end of 2022. He plays regularly on the Japan Golf Tour but recently finished T28 at the Zozo Championship, which was his first PGA Tour start. He tied Olympic gold medalist, Xander Schauffele, as well as Joaquin Niemann.
Nakajima is the third amateur from Japan to win the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, joining Kanaya, who he calls a good friend and mentor, and Matsuyama, who he will try to get a practice round with at next Masters where Matsuyama will be the defending champion. All three are also former (or current!) No. 1 amateurs in the world.