Japan vs. Thailand Friendly: Camaraderie and Bonds Observed at the Amata Friendship Cup
Although Japanese schools are more frequently adopting curriculums that respect each individual’s personality, traditional Japanese education hammered the concept of collective action into the heads of students from elementary to high school. This traditional schooling is likely the reason Japanese are competitive when it comes to cooperative team work.
The Olympic Games have proven to be an exciting competition that pits countries against one another, but most professional golf tournaments in the world are individual matches. I always longed for an opportunity to root for a team of Japanese golfers at an international competition, so I was thrilled and excited when I heard there was going to be a team match between Japan and Thailand at the Amata Friendship Cup.
The event was held for three days from the 21st to 24th of December 2018 at Amata Spring Country Club. The Amata Friendship Cup was a team match between mixed-gender teams of twelve that included two amateurs from each country. With the total prize money of 137 million yen and pride on the line, the exciting tournament started with mixed-gender doubles on the first two days followed by a singles match on the last day.
With such an amazing gathering of talent, I was asking myself, “How were they able to gather this impressive lineup?” The men, for team Japan, led by captain Naomichi Ozaki were all international golfers such as Hideto Tanihara, Satoshi Kodaira, Kodai Ichihara, and Masahiro Kawamura. The amateur was Yuto Katsuragawa (Nihon University/sophomore), who won the 2018 Japan Student Golf Championship.
The captain for the women’s team for Japan was Miho Koga, following by the two-time LPGA winner Nasa Hataoka, and great golfers from the JLPGA Tour, Sakura Koiwai and Erika Hara.
The amateur was the champion of the 2018 Japan Women’s Amateur Championship and Japan Junior Championship, Yuri Yoshida (Reitaku High School/senior).
Playing at home, the Thai team is even more complete. Starting with the undeniably best sibling duo in the game, the team included the No. 1 world ranking Ariya Jutanugarn and her older sister ranking 4th, Moriya Jutanugarn. Also in the lineup was Prayad Marksaeng—the “Undisputed King” at the top of the money list for three consecutive years on the Japan Senior Tour, the four-time winner of the European Tour, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, and top amateur, Atthaya Thitikul—the youngest golfer ever to win a professional golf tournament at the age of 14, beating the record of Lydia Ko’s title at the Ladies European Tour.
Japan started off with 5W-9L-2D (Win: 1 point, Draw: 0.5 points) on the first two days and was down by 4 points against Thailand. Starting from behind in the singles match on the final day, team Japan excited the crowd by showing the group cohesion with a 6W-4L-2D adding 7 points for a total of 13 points. Alas, their valiant effort ended in vain as Thailand won the tournament by two points.
“Golf tournaments are held nearly every week somewhere in the world. Those tournaments determine the best golfers of the week. Team camaraderie and close communication are essential for tournaments contested between countries. Watching athletes dressed in national color uniforms, embracing one another and giving high-fives provides the crowd with more excitement and inspiration. We invited two men and women amateurs on each team. It would be difficult to quantify the amazing experience they have by sharing a week with the world’s top professionals. Being able to compete at the same level as professionals will provide them with great confidence, and they will grow to become better and stronger players. (David Townend)
“This first tournament was also a trial run to test if such efforts would be accepted. With the wonderful environment here at Amata Spring Country Club, we would like to organize this event again, not only between Japan and Thailand, but expanding it to an Asian tournament that includes China and Korea. (David Townend)
“It was great timing because I got this offer just after I quit my job as a golf magazine editor in March, 2017. I was offered this job since I was acquainted with the organizer and the promoter, but since the players on the Thai side were almost settled at the time, it was challenging to gather and arrange athletes matching their level.” (Oizumi)
“The organizers wanted to make the tournament official by working with JGTO or LPGA but the arrangements did not go well. The preparation on our side was delayed and it was tough. It has not been decided yet, but there could be a tournament between Asian Nations and Thailand in the future. If this tournament is going to be held next year, I want a team as well, since it was so tough making arrangements for all the athletes on my own. (Laughter) (Oizumi)
Team Japan did their best, trying to catch up on the final day. Not giving up and showed their strong team spirit. Unfortunately, they were not able to turn things around but I am sure that overcoming hurdles in an unusual international environment strengthened the camaraderie, deepened the bonds between the players and each individual grew as a person. I am already excited what the 2nd Amata Friendship Cup would be like.
Amata Spring Country Club
700/3-9 Moo 6, T. Nongmaidaeng, A.Muang, Chonburi, 20000, Thailand
Tel. +66 (0) 33-141-000