Els and Bjørn return to happy hunting ground in Japan


Ernie Els (Photo by Yoshimasa Nakano/Getty Images)

A mix of golfing legends and young stars are making history this week as the DP World Tour breaks new ground at the ISPS HANDA-CHAMPIONSHIP.

Four-time Major winner Ernie Els and victorious 2018 European Ryder Cup Captain Thomas Bjørn are both double winners in Japan, which becomes the 51st different country to host a DP World Tour event.

South African legend Els, who tasted success in the country early in his storied career at the 1993 Dunlop Phoenix Tournament and again in the 2001 World Cup of Golf, was joined in his fulsome praise for Japan as a host country – and this new event – by Denmark’s most successful player Bjørn, who lifted the Dunlop Phoenix Tournament trophy in 1999 and 2003.


“It’s a special time, the first official DP World Tour event in Japan, that’s something,” Els said. “I’m happy to be here. I’ve been associated with ISPS HANDA for a couple of years. We play in some pro-ams out here in Japan and spend some quality time with them. They do a great job, give a lot back, they help disability golf. Now they are sponsoring an event in Japan with the DP World Tour – it’s a milestone.

“Dr Handa is a character, he likes to be happy, he likes to make people laugh. You could hear that on the 18th green earlier. He’s a wonderful man, he gives back, and he’s serious about where he puts his money. Great to see the Japan Tour also benefitting here, it’s a positive all round.

“I won in Japan early in my career, so I always went back to where I played well. In my case those places have been around the world.”

Bjorn added: “Coming out to play golf in Japan is something everyone needs to try because the golf courses and condition of places out here is so unique and special. It really is such a pleasure. This week the golf course is in unbelievable condition. When I look back at my trips to Japan that’s what I remember, played such amazing golf courses out here and had such great experiences.

“It was always something I thought needed to happen (DP World Tour coming to Japan). It hasn’t evolved until now but now that it’s here we should really treasure it. I think it’s great for golf, it’s great for golf in Japan, for golf in Europe. Let’s build on that relationship, let’s make it something that everyone can enjoy. Our guys are excited, they come out here and see the golf course and everything that is here.”

The next generation of European stars are also looking forward to teeing it up in the first DP World Tour tournament to be co-sanctioned alongside the Japan Golf Tour Organisation, with Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre excited to be visiting a new location as he returns to action for the first time since the Magical Kenya Open presented by Absa.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” said MacIntyre. “I’ve heard so many good things about Japan. It’s good to be here. It’s everything, how nice the people are, the food, the sights. The flowers are beautiful, it’s extra special just now with the blossoms.

“I’ve played with some of the Japanese guys. Masahiro Kawamura being one of them, he is probably the nicest guy on Tour. I only arrived last night and so far everyone has been brilliant, just looking forward to getting a good week under my belt.

“I’ve been chilling out at home (since the Magical Kenyan Open), playing some shinty (Scottish sport). It has been nice and relaxed but looking forward to getting back out and competing after being at home doing not much.”

There is a strong contingent of Japanese golfers are in the field in Omitama, as the event builds on the recently announced partnership between the DP World Tour, PGA TOUR and JGTO, that will see the top three players on the JGTO Order of Merit earn membership onto the DP World Tour each season.

The 2022 JGTO Order of Merit winner Kazuki Higa tees it up on the back of his debut Masters appearance, alongside current leader Shugo Imahira and the top two Japanese players in the Race to Dubai Rankings in Partnership with Rolex – Masahiro Kawamura and Ryo Hisatsune.

It’s also set to be a memorable week for ISPS HANDA Ambassador Brendan Lawlor, with the number two in the World Ranking for Golfers with Disability teeing it up in his second DP World Tour event.

Lawlor plays the first two rounds in the company of Andy Sullivan and Romain Langasque. Also in the field from an Irish point of view is Gary Hurley and Tom McKibbin.

  • Full tee-times HERE

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