Spread across three continents this year, New Zealand’s Kazuma Kobori has dropped enough hints of his immense talent.
This week’s Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) at Royal Melbourne Golf Club sets the perfect stage for him to cement his status as global golf’s brightest young star.
The 21-year-old Kobori, who turns 22 on Wednesday, is hoping to put on hold his birthday celebrations and double the joy on Sunday by becoming the first New Zealand player to win the AAC title.
In 2023, Kobori has already won a 129-year-old championship (The Australian Amateur at New South Wales Golf Club in Sydney, Australia), a 124-year-old tournament (Western Amateur at North Shore Country Club in Illinois, US) and the individual title in the most prestigious amateur team championship in the world (World Amateur Team Championship at Abu Dhabi Golf Club in the UAE).
In between, he also finished as the medalist in Australasian Tour Qualifying School at Moonah Links, which means he can turn professional any day he wants to.
However, such is the lure of the AAC and the rewards it has for its winner, he now wants to prolong his amateur career with a shot at the oldest championship in the world (The Open Championship) and compete for golf’s greatest fashion statement (the Green Jacket at The Masters).
A couple of days after taking down the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) No.1 and No. 2 – Christo Lamprecht of South Africa and Gordon Sargent of the USA – with a brilliant final-round 65 in Abu Dhabi, Kobori knew exactly what to do to bring himself back on even keel before the “most important week of my amateur career”.
On Monday, after his long flight from Abu Dhabi, he immersed himself in doing his laundry.
“I won’t be celebrating my birthday. I’ve got a job to do. It’s probably my last AAC and I’m hoping to finish it off with a good performance in one of the most important weeks of my amateur career,” said Kobori, whose parents migrated to New Zealand from Karuizawa in Japan when he was a five-year-old.
“The thing about golf is that there’s always a next step. I’ve learned over the years not to get too ahead of myself. That’s when the game can bite back.
World Amateur Teams Joy
“It was amazing to win the WATC last week. Played really well over the weekend (67-65). But this is going to be a different week. It was touching 36-37 degrees Centigrade in Abu Dhabi, and it is cold and raining here in Melbourne. And the golf course is so different. There is a lot to adjust to.”
Adjusting is something that comes easy to Kobori. From an early age, he and his sister Momoka (a professional on the Ladies European Tour) were told by their parents that discipline was the key to whatever they did.
“From things like making our beds the moment we wake up, to cleaning dishes and doing our own laundry…these are things my parents have insisted we do. It’s probably the biggest influence of Japanese culture we had growing up in New Zealand,” said Kobori, who received an exemption to play the PGA Tour’s Bermuda Championship and two Korn Ferry Tour events for winning the Western Am.
“And it has helped me on the golf course as well. One of my strengths is that I am very thorough with my processes and routines. I try to focus only on my next shot. I try to be very calm on the golf course. I think I am a very disciplined person, even though my dad will probably still disagree with that.”
No Fear for Kobori
Royal Melbourne Golf Club is going to be a massive challenge for the field this week, but there is little that intimidates Kobori.
His father, Ryozo, was a professional dirt biker and Kobori learned early that falling down was part of life and sport. It is the getting up and doing it all over again that is more important.
“I love dirt biking, but I have almost stopped doing it so that I do not get any injury that would hamper my golf,” said Kobori.
“I believe there is nothing in the world you should be afraid of, including a course like Royal Melbourne. I was five when we moved to New Zealand, but I still have memories of how difficult it was for me because I did not know any English. That was frightening for a kid. I remember not having many friends early on. And then, slowly things changed. If I could get over that, I can get over anything.
“But as for Royal Melbourne, I have a good reason to feel more comfortable on the course. I played here as a junior and I stayed for a few days with Richard Hatt, the Head Professional here. He gave me some very useful local information and it helped me play great that time.”
If Kobori does not hoist the AAC trophy on Sunday, he will turn pro next week. If he does, he will retain his amateur status for a few more months. Was it a difficult decision?
“To get a chance to play Augusta National? It was a no-brainer!” he quipped.