DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Japan’s Nasa Hataoka leads the newest teenage contingent to LPGA Q-School this week.
Hataoka won the Japan Women’s Open last month at age 17, becoming the youngest winner in the championship’s history. She was the first amateur to win a major on the Japan LPGA Tour.
Hataoka, who will turn 18 on Jan. 13, is among 14 teenagers teeing it up at LPGA International this week in hopes of earning LPGA membership for next season. The top 20 in the field of 157 will earn full LPGA status, with those finishing 21st to 45th earning partial status.
Hataoka held off former Rolex world No. 1 Jiyai Shin and two-time major championship winner In Gee Chun to win the Japanese Women’s Open.
“There was a lot of pressure, but I was able to play my game,” Hataoka told GolfChannel.com through a translator, Miho Kuramoto, who is helping her management team this week.
Hataoka became a sensation in Japan winning a major there as a teen phenom. Seven media outlets from Japan requested credentials to LPGA Q-School this week, according to LPGA officials. Hataoka advanced through the first two stages of LPGA Q-School this year to make it to the final stage.
“It feels weird,” Hataoka said of the intense media attention. “It’s different, but I want to enjoy having so many people watch me.”
Hataoka won the IMG World Juniors girls’ 15-17 title in San Diego in July for a second straight year. She also made it to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur this summer, playing in a USGA event for the first time. She said one of her big challenges this week is adjusting to Florida’s Bermuda grasses, especially with short-game shots around the greens.
“She’s a great ball striker and putter,” said Gareth Jones, her coach. “Winning the Japan Women’s Open was huge, and it’s brought her a lot of attention, but she handles it very well. She has a great mom and dad helping her.”