Date: December 05, 2019
Author: Rod Morri @ The Australian

The joint leader: Kanaya won’t wilt, says coach

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Genuinely world class amateurs are less rare than they used to be, but even in that exalted company world No. 1 Takumi Kanaya stands out.

Just two weeks ago the 21-year-old from Hiroshima won one of the Japan Tour’s most prestigious professional events and looks to have picked up exactly where he left off with an opening six-under par round at the Emirates Australian Open.

As the morning wave finished their rounds and some of the tournament’s main drawcards headed out on course, Kanaya held a two-shot lead over the field.

But what would be an intimidating position for most young players won’t faze Kanaya according to his Australian coach, Gareth Jones. In fact, he’ll relish it.

“He saw his mate nearly do it last year,” said Jones, referring to Keita Nakajima, who played in the final group on Sunday in 2018.

“And he’s a very tough kid, a lot of inner strength. If he needs to do something he does it and he won’t be uncomfortable about this situation at all.”

Out in the first groups off the 10th tee at The Australian Golf Club, Kanaya certainly didn’t show any sign of nerves or being overwhelmed.

Good scoring conditions greeted the early starters and he was one of several to take advantage with a fast start, heading to the turn five-under and tied with South Australia’s Wade Ormsby.

But he showed his mettle as the round unfolded, a lone bogey at the par-4 third hole  – courtesy of an atrocious hooked tee shot – did little to derail him.

In fact he finished with back-to-back birdies on two of The Australian Golf Club’s more difficult holes to put an exclamation point on an already remarkable round.

“Final hole I have luck,” he said of his finish. “I had 30 feet but I make the putt. I am happy!”

Kanaya displayed not only great golf skill on his fourth visit to the Australian Open but a sense of humour as well.

Asked about learning to speak English, he revealed he ‘watches YouTube’, following the soccer superstar Keisuke Honda and tennis player Kei Nishikori,  and studies.

Kanaya is no stranger to big time golf having won the Asia Pacific amateur Championship in 2018 and lost in a play-off at the same event earlier this year.

He played this year’s Masters at Augusta courtesy of his 2018 victory in Singapore and acquitted himself well by making the cut.

Certainly Jones has no doubts he has all the tools necessary and relays a tale from four years ago to drive home the point.

“It was at the Nomura Cup in Abu Dhabi and the team was going pretty well late Sunday,” he said.  “Takumi was the youngest player in the team and he saw me on about the 16th tee and asked what we needed to do to have a chance.

“I told him we probably needed a couple of birdies and at that stage he was pretty small and couldn’t hit it very far but he stepped up and hit driver, four-iron to the next hole for birdie, then hits a hybrid over the water at the par-three next and makes a birdie then lips out for birdie on 18.

“And all of that came from inside. This kid is pretty tough and he’s the kind of kid that if he needs to do something he will. He won’t be worried about leading this tournament, I can assure you.”

Kanaya hits off at 12.10pm in round two alongside Jason Scrivener and Jamie Lovemark.