OZAKI SAYS HIS TEAM HAS RAISED THE ASIAN STANDARD


Naomichi ‘Joe’ Ozaki believes his Team’s glorious Royal Trophy triumph is a testament to how much the competition has raised golfing standards in Asia.

He said the Asian players had banished any doubts over whether they could compete on level terms with the finest golfers from Europe and the USA. Asia endured cruel defeats in the last two Royal Trophy matches, but Captain Ozaki said he sensed a burning desire within his Team not to let it happen a third time.

The Asian players trailed their higher-ranked European opponents for the first two days, but their stirring fightback in the Fourball matches proved the forerunner for a stunning performance in the Singles.Asia won the final session 4 1/2 – 3 1/2 to level the score at eight points all, and then delivered the telling blow with Korean star K.T.Kim’s breath-taking birdie in the sudden death play-off clinching victory for the home Team.

Ozaki beamed with delight as he paid tribute to his winning players, who took great delight in mimicking his Gangnam-style celebration.

Ozaki commented: “I felt we might see something special from my players when we had our Team meeting after the Fourball to discuss how we could beat the Europeans, who are much higher in the world rankings than us.

“Despite that I could feel there was a confident atmosphere in our Team room, and maybe we feel more motivated and hungry for victory than our opponents.

“Of course they wanted to win badly too – but when you have been through painful defeats like we have in the previous two matches, perhaps it strengthens your resolve. We were a very united Team all week. And there was never any suggestion that it was something that could be beyond us against such powerful opponents.

“I would say to my players now that they must take even more strength and more confidence from the way they overcame such odds to win for their Continent.

“I firmly believe the Royal Trophy has been helping to raise the standard of golf in Asia ever since it was launched six years ago. And our golf has now reached a point where we can expect to compete with the European and American boys on a level footing. I hope, and believe, this competition will continue to grow in stature and importance.”

Jeev Milkha Singh’s fightback from one down with three holes to play to claim a priceless point for Asia typified their never-say-die attitude. He levelled his match on the 16th hole with a long birdie putt when Miguel Angel Jiménez was closer to the hole – and repeated the feat on 17 when his 25-footer for birdie earned the second biggest cheer of the day.

The loudest one was reserved for the 15-footer Kim rolled in for the birdie that earned Asia their victory!

Singh commented: “I honestly felt more pressure in this match than I have when I have been trying to win a big tournament. It means so much to all of us. I looked at the scoreboards a lot and knew I had to win my match to keep our hopes of victory alive.”

Kim insisted he felt less pressure in the play-off – when he had the reassuring presence of playing partner Y.E. Yang alongside him – than he did in the Singles match he halved with Gonzalo Fernández-Castaño.”

He explained: “The beauty of Team play is that you have a partner with you most of the time and I found the Singles more challenging in terms of dealing with nerves.

“And on my final putt I was fortunate that I had a similar putt on that green in my Singles – in fact it was a little closer, and I could not make that one. But I knew which way it would break, and even though it was around 15 feet I felt quite confident over the putt. It was a wonderful feeling to see it drop in the hole.”

Another Asian star who rose to the occasion magnificently was Yoshinori Fujimoto of Japan, who only turned professional at the start of the year. He found himself three down to Marcel Siem of Germany with only seven holes to play – but a brilliant hat-trick of birdies propelled him to victory n the final green.

He said: “Even when I was three down I said to my caddie I had to keep going because I felt I still had a chance. And when I made those three birdies in a row I was so pleased that I could make an important contribution for the team.

“It has been a great experience to play in these matches, and I hope I get the chance to do it again in the near future.”

José Maria Olazábal insisted there had been no hint of complacency from his team after they had overpowered their opponents in the opening Foursomes matches. And he echoed Ozaki’s sentiments on the fast-improving standard of golf in Asia.

He said: “We didn’t relax at all. We are experienced, we played the Ryder Cup and we know what can happen in Match Play. In that regard, we didn’t make that mistake. It was really down to the Asians playing better.

“Regarding Asian golf, you can see, Korean guys playing well, Japanese kids paying well with a bright future ahead of them, and Chinese players doing well. The future of Asian golf is very, very bright.

“This is just a start to be honest. Compared to the USA and Europe you’re years behind but you are starting to produce great players. From the way I see it, we are going to see more and more young players coming from Asia doing extraordinarily well around the world.”

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