FUKUOKA, Japan (November 26, 2007) -- Nick Ushijima has been a regular on the California and National amateur golf scene over the past twenty or so years, and he has also competed regularly in Japan where his commercial real estate business frequently took him.
Since moving to Japan permanently over two years ago, Ushijima re-dedicated himself to getting in shape (his friends will tell you he was ALWAYS in shape anyway) and finding the mental attitude that worked for him in clutch situations.
The result? A victory on Japan's version of the Nationwide Tour this summer, and at the Japan Mid-Amateur Championship at the beginning of November, where he overcame a 6-shot deficit with just nine holes to play.
According to a report on the Japan Golf Association's website, the only player who thought he could do it was Ushijima.
"The course can grab you and bite you at any given time. You don’t need to make a bad shot to make double-bogey," said Ushijima. “Even after hitting it close to the hole, there is no guarantee that you can get out of the hole with par. I thought I could win it if I play the last nine holes 1-under par or better.”
He made that thought more realistic first by birdie the 10 after sinking a 10-footer. In the meantime, the leaders started to fall apart in the back nine, indicative of heavy pressure of a National Championship. On the 14th hole, both Katsunari Takahashi and Ushijima were tied after Ushijima sunk an 8-footer for birdie. Takahashi’s and all other leaders’ downward slide continued while Ushijima continued the steady play. Ushijima bogeyed the 16th, but according to him “the hole really didn’t fit my eye, so I thought making bogey there was still within the scope."
While standing on the final tee, Ushijima found out that he was leading the tournament by 2 shots. For the last few years, the veteran Ushijima has lost many tournaments by being “too conservative” down the stretch.
Not this time.
"Years ago, when I used to get into the lead in a tournament, I would tell myself 'this is your last chance to win,' said Ushijima, during a recent visit to Southern California. "When I got the lead at the Japan Mid-Am, I used that thought to play aggressive right to the end."
Indeed, Ushijima's birdie at the 18th hole was the only one of the day as winds swept over a difficult home stretch of holes that saw most of the leading players bogey both the 17th and 18th. (Ushijima also made a solid par at the watery, 215 yard, par 3 seventeenth.)