Over the weekend, Keita Nakajima did something very unique in the golf industry: he went out and showed that he was the best golfer in the world. Nakajima, the current World Amateur Golf Rankings No. 1 golfer, won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in a playoff at Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club, securing his spot in the 2022 Masters.
Nakajima became the 42nd golfer in history to reach No. 1 in the WAGR in November, and he has remained there for more than 40 weeks in the last year. He joined the ranks of Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland, Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Cantlay, and Jon Rahm, who is currently No. 1 in the non-amateur rankings. On Sunday, though, none of that mattered to Nakajima, who had to shoot a 68 in the final round of the event merely to qualify for a playoff in Dubai.
After finishing at 14 under par and splitting the first playoff hole with his opponent, Taichi Kho, Keita Nakajimawon the event with a long birdie — which he didn’t need because Kho’s approach was in the water — and effectively entered his name into the Masters and the 2022 Open Championship at St. Andrews. That has to be one of the most powerful 20-footers in amateur history, given the stakes of those two championships. Nakajima also qualified for the 2022 U.S. Open on his own, ensuring that he will compete in three of the four majors next year.
“I’m quite proud of what I’ve accomplished,” Nakajima stated. “It feels amazing to be following in the footsteps of Hideki-san and Takumi [Kanaya]. I’m ecstatic to be playing three majors in 2022, and I’m grateful to the tournament for providing us with such incredible opportunity.”
The Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship was held this year in the United Arab Emirates, which is one of the 42 countries that make up the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation. The event has previously taken place in China, Singapore, and Australia (among other places), but this was its first time in the UAE. Because to the COVID-19 epidemic, the 2020 edition was canceled, although Yuxin Lin won the 2019 competition in China (he also won in 2017). Lin finished T7 in Dubai this year.
Nakajima is now enrolled at Japan Sports Science University and has stated that he plans to turn professional by the end of 2022. He is a regular on the Japan Golf Tour, although he just placed T28 in his maiden PGA Tour appearance at the Zozo Championship. He tied Xander Schauffele, an Olympic gold champion, and Joaquin Niemann.
Keita Nakajima is the third amateur from Japan to win the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, following Kanaya, whom he describes as a dear friend and mentor, and Matsuyama, with whom he hopes to have a practice round at the Masters, where Matsuyama is the defending champion. All three are previous (or present!) world number one amateurs.