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[JAPAN SPORTS NOTEBOOK] Golfer Mone Inami Rides Positive Momentum From Olympics to First Career Major Victory

The third-year pro leads the Japanese professional women’s tour with eight victories this season.

Ed Odeven

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The Tokyo Olympics gave Mone Inami a good opportunity to demonstrate that she’s one of the best young women’s professional golfers in the world.

Several weeks later, Inami produced her latest victory on the LPGA of Japan Tour, also known as the JLPGA. The Tokyo native established a new tournament record with a 19-under-par 269 and captured the JLPGA Championship Konica Minolta Cup winner’s trophy on Sunday, September 12.

The 22-year-old Inami earned the silver medal in a playoff with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko on August 7 at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture. By doing so, she became the first Japanese golfer to collect an Olympic medal.

Inami’s dynamic performance in the major included an 8-under 64 in the decisive final round at Shizu Hills Country Club in Ibaraki Prefecture.

The rising star was ecstatic after the tournament ended. A sense of accomplishment permeated her comments to reporters.

“I was glad I was able to achieve it so quickly because my goal was to win the majors. My next goal is 10 wins, and I want to do my best with that goal. I also cannot wait to return to defend my title next year as I’m sure it’s going to be another exciting tournament,” Inami said.

In winning her first major, Inami exhibited a strong focus on her goal at hand. She climbed from tied for 11th after the first round to tied for 10th at the midway point, then shared the runner-up spot entering the final round.

Inami has triumphed in eight JLPGA tournaments over the past year. Victory No. 1 was at the Stanley Ladies Golf Tournament, which ended on October 11, 2020. Her other victories this season were in the Meiji Yasuda Life Ladies Yokohama Tire Golf Tournament, Yamaha Ladies Open Katsuragi, Fujifilm Studio Alice Ladies Open, Fujisankei Ladies Classic, Chukyo TV Bridgestone Ladies Open and Nitori Ladies Golf Tournament.

Inami is No. 1 in tour earnings through September 12 with ¥205,729,149 JPY for the 2020-21 season, appearing in 36 tournaments. Sakura Koiwai, winner of five tournaments, is second with more than ¥173 million JPY in prize money.

Inami, who turned pro in 2018, is also No. 1 in scoring average (70.0184), followed by Koiwai (70.4325) and Ayako Fukue (70.5459).

RELATED COVERAGE:
[ODDS and EVENS] Golfer Mone Inami Raises Profile with Brilliant Start in 2021

Auto Racing

Sato Targeting Another Top-10 Finish in Overall Standings

Entering the final two races of the 2021 IndyCar season, veteran driver Takuma Sato is 11th in the overall standings.

There are 43 IndyCar drivers this season. The next-to-last race, the Grand Prix of Laguna Seca, is on Sunday, September 19. 

The final race is the Grand Prix of Long Beach on September 26.

Sato, who has 297 points, has seven top-10 finishes in 14 races to date. He had a season-best fourth-place finish in the Grand Prix of Belle Isle ー Race 1 on June 12 after starting in the 16th position. He also has a pair of sixth-place finishes (Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on April 25, and Grand Prix of Gateway on August 21).

Alex Palou leads with 477 points, followed by Pato O’Ward with 452 and Josef Newgarden with 443.

In 2020, Sato, who won the Indy 500 for the second time in August, placed seventh overall in points. He was ninth overall in 2019.

Sato appears on the verge of a move to Dale Coyne Racing for the 2022 season.

The Tokyo native is currently under contract with the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team. His contract expires after the season.

“There are some important details to finalize. I’d say we’re 80 percent there,” team owner Coyne recently told AutoSport.com. “But there’s willingness on both sides to make it happen, and that helps.”

Baseball

BayStars’ Austin, Buffaloes’ Yoshida Lead Respective Leagues in Batting

Former MLB player Tyler Austin, who’s in his second season with the Yokohama DeNA BayStars, and injured Orix Buffaloes star Masataka Yoshida are leading the Central League and Pacific League, respectively, in batting.

Austin owned a .323 batting average with 26 home runs through Friday, September 17, 

Yoshida, who has been sidelined since early September with a left thigh muscle injury, is batting .338. Yoshida had a PL-best .350 batting average in 2020.

A season ago, Austin, who played for the U.S. national team at the Tokyo Olympics, hit .286 for Yokohama, appearing in 65 of 120 games. He’s been a regular in the starting lineup as an outfielder this year.

During his MLB career (2016-19), Austin suited up for the New York Yankees, Minnesota Twins, San Francisco Giants and Milwaukee Brewers.

Austin could become the second BayStars player to win a batting title in as many seasons. Keita Sano hit a CL-best .328 in 2020.

Yoshida, meanwhile, is in the midst of a rare absence from day-to-day baseball activity. His streak of 512 consecutive regular-season games ended on September 5. He appeared in the previous day’s game as a pinch hitter. He sustained a thigh injury while legging out an infield single in the ninth on September 3.

In the next 10 games since Yoshida’s absence began, Orix had three wins, six losses and a tie.

Well-Traveled Tsutsugo Finds Comfort Zone with Pirates

After moving from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Los Angeles Dodgers earlier this season before joining the Pittsburgh Pirates in August, Yoshi Tsutsugo appears comfortable in his role as a regular in his latest team’s lineup.

The former BayStars star has seen time at first base, left field and right field, while also handling pitch-hitting duties for the Pirates in 28 games through September 17. He’s started nine of his last 11 games in right, the other two at first.

In a season of frequent changes, Tsutsugo appeared in 26 games for the Rays (.167 batting average, zero home runs) and 12 for the Dodgers (.120, zero homers).

But over the past several weeks, the 29-year-old has made solid offensive contributions for Pittsburgh. He’s hitting at a .289 clip with seven homers for his new team.

Reflecting on his change of scenery, Tsutsugo said the Pirates are a good fit for him at this stage of his career.

“It’s really comfortable for me,” Tsutsugo said through a translator in late August, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. “The manager, staff, my teammates, we joke around a lot and make it a really nice environment for me. It was really easy for me to transition to this team.”

Arihara Shelled in Latest Start

In his third start since returning from the 60-day injured list, Texas Rangers hurler Kohei Arihara was roughed up by the Houston Astros on Wednesday, September 15.

Arihara yielded eight hits, including two home runs, and six runs in four innings and took the loss. He fanned on batter.

The 29-year-old, who previously pitched for the Hokkaido Nippon Fighters, underwent surgery in late May to repair an aneurysm in his right shoulder. He rejoined the pitching rotation in early September. 

Rangers manager Chris Woodward spoke about Arihara’s pitching mannerisms after the game and noted he has room for improvement in one particular area.

“The one thing that kind of stands out to me, and we’ve seen this a few times, when things aren’t going well, everything slows down,” Woodward told reporters later. “It’s something he has to work on, keep the pace, almost tell himself that we need to speed it up.”

Track and Field

Tokyo Marathon Postponed to March 2022

This year’s Tokyo Marathon was scheduled to be held on October 17. Plans have changed, the Tokyo Marathon Foundation announced on Friday, September 17.

Instead, the race will be held next spring. 

“With the difficulty to forecast the trend of COVID-19 and involved restrictions on mobility, it is decided that the Tokyo Marathon 2021 will be postponed to Sunday, March 6, 2022,” the foundation said in a statement.

Boxing

Tszyu-Inoue Bout Set for November 17

Super welterweights Tim Tszyu (19-0) and Takeshi Inoue (17-1-1, 15 knockouts) will square off on November 17, according to published reports this week.

No Limited Boxing is set to announce a fight venue in Australia in the coming days.

Tszyu, an Australian, is the World Boxing Organization’s No. 1-ranked challenger. Inoue is No. 7.

Argentine Brian Castano is the WBO champion.

Tszyu predicted he’ll beat Inoue.

“I’ve gotten to the stage where I couldn’t care less who I fight,” Tszyu was quoted as saying by the Sydney Morning Herald. “I’m not in this sport for a long time and I might as well make the most of every opportunity to jump on board while this ship is sailing.

“Bring me someone in the top 10. I just want to get in there and punch someone’s head in. I couldn’t care less about who is in front of me right now. I just want to get it on. It’s not going 12 rounds.”

Clearly, Tszyu is motivated to pounce on every opponent he encounters. But he expects a formidable challenge from Inoue.

“This will be a tough challenge, I’m sure he will give me my toughest fight, the toughest test of my career,” Tszyu told the Herald.

Rugby

Brave Blossoms Preparing for October Test Against Australia

Japan and Australia are back in action in the nations’ first test since November 2017 on October 23, it was announced by the Japan Rugby Football Union on Friday, September 17.

The test match will be held at Showa Denko Dome in Oita.

The Wallabies, the world’s fifth-ranked team, pounded Japan 63-30 in the aforementioned showdown four years ago in Yokohama.

This time, the 10th-ranked Brave Blossoms will seek to end their 0-5 record against Australia.

Japan hasn’t appeared in a test match since hosting the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

“The opportunity to play a test match on home soil, against a team the quality of Australia, is a hugely important moment for us to reconnect with our fans and the wider Japanese public, following the success of the 2019 World Cup,” Brave Blossoms coach Jamie Joseph said in a statement.

After facing Australia next month, Japan will embark on an autumn tour of Europe, facing Ireland, Portugal and Scotland on November 6, 13 and 20.

General Sports

Time Magazine Lists Ohtani, Osaka Among Top 100 Influential People in 2021

Los Angeles Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani and four-time Grand Slam singles winner Naomi Osaka were selected for inclusion on Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People of 2021.” 

This annual list includes high-profile individuals in numerous fields. The magazine divided its coverage into the following categories: icons, pioneers, titans, artists, leaders and innovators.

The 100 people on the list aren’t ranked, however.

Ohtani and tennis star Osaka are listed among Time‘s 2021 icons. Headlining the icons section are Prince Harry and his wife Meghan.

Kengo Kuma, the architect who designed the New National Stadium for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, is one of Time‘s innovators.

Ice Hockey

Yokohama Grits Begin Second Season

The Yokohama Grits, an Asia League Ice Hockey club, launched their second season on September 11. The host East Hokkaido Cranes won the opener, 9-2.

Currently facing only other domestic pro teams due to pandemic-related travel complications, the Grits are competing in the Japan Cup.

Look for coverage of the Grits and the Asia League in upcoming JAPAN Forward reports.

Quote of the Week

“I was nervous, but it was fun. It was fun because the mascot character came to me. [Home plate] was far away.”

Momiji Nishiya, the women’s street skateboarding gold medalist at the Tokyo Olympics, on her experience throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the Orix Buffaloes-Saitama Seibu Lions game at Kyocera Dome on Sunday, September 19. Nishiya celebrated her 14th birthday on August 30, a few weeks after capturing Olympic gold.

Editor’s note: Interested in submitting a news item for possible inclusion in the Japan Sports Notebook? Send an email with relevant information to e.odeven@japan-forward.com, or JAPAN Forward’s comment’s page  or Facebook page and look for future editions of Japan Sports Notebook on our website.

Author:  Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward’s [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays,  in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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Ed Odeven is a longtime sports journalist who previously worked for The Japan Times as its chief basketball reporter for nearly 14 years. He also covered a wide range of other sports for the newspaper, including at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Games. A graduate of Arizona State University, Odeven worked for several newspapers in the Grand Canyon State before moving to Japan. He has freelanced for dozens of media outlets around the world.