The 2018 season was a truly glorious year for women's golf tournaments in Japan. It was the year a number of tournament newcomers, born in 1998 and often referred to as the "golden generation," gave some very successful performances.
Momoko Osato, the player who won the CAT Ladies Tournament, is also one of them.
However, she was not very well-known until her victory.
In the final stages of the tournament, Momoko Osato was leading by a very narrow margin, and the unsuspecting expression on her face led everyone to believe that it was only a question of time before she crumbled under the pressure of the veteran players who had been closing in on her.
However, there was a group of people right next to her who never stopped believing in her tremendous potential and waited for her victorious moment.
Those people were professionals from Bridgestone Sports (BS), the equipment provider Momoko Osato has a contract with.
One of the specialists whom she trusts the most is Soichiro Nakahara. He has been working in this field for 20 years, and had this to say about Momoko Osato.
"I've always been amazed by Momoko's tremendous potential. I can really tell she's growing as an athlete, which is why being in her support team is such a rewarding job."
No matter how talented an athlete is, they cannot develop their talent properly without a team of specialists who prepare and adjust their gear. Momoko Osato's victory at the CAT Ladies Tournament was also made possible by the dedicated efforts of the BS professional team, which includes Nakahara.
You can feel the trust that Osato places in her team and the strong bonds she nurtures with Nakahara and other members who in turn work hard to make sure she reaches her full potential.
"I signed a contract with Bridgestone after successfully completing the qualification tournament two years ago when I finished 16th in the finals and qualified for the tournament that took place the following year. I had already been using clubs provided by Bridgestone Sports, but I had never had them adjusted before. After I signed the contract, the professional team chose the right clubs for me and adjusted them. I was shocked by the enormous difference that a few small adjustments could make to the ball trajectory. I even started to enjoy modifying my clubs and trying out different setups."
Osato is 170 cm tall. She is physically strong, and her swing scale is remarkable. When her performance was measured with a TrackMan launch monitor for the first time during the first match of last year's season, her driver ball speed exceeded 3,000 rpm. The average speed at women's tournaments is usually about 2,500 rpm, and when the speed exceeds 3,000 rpm, that actually has a negative impact on the distance and makes the ball vulnerable to the wind.
One of Osato's weaknesses was also her tendency to hook the ball and make it curve to the left.
She perfected her swing together with her father, Mitsuru, who is also her coach. Meanwhile, having the gear properly adjusted is of essential importance for Osato, who still has plenty of room for growth.
"When I try to polish my swing or when I don't know how to fix an issue, I know I can always get some helpful advice from the team. That's really reassuring," she says.
The advice that Nakahara and other team members provide her with is based on large amounts of data accumulated through years of tournaments. Still, each player is unique and wants to develop a particular golfing style. Adjusting the gear offers an endless amount of different options.
Nakahara says, "What I must never do as her assistant, is say to Momoko "Here, try this, it worked for other players too" or something like that."
Nakahara and other professionals are in charge of more than 10 female tournament players who have contracts with Bridgestone Sports. The team needs to take good care of each and every athlete.
Because Osato has such great potential, every small adjustment made to her club can drastically change the ball trajectory.
During the initial stage of her first season last year, Osato failed to pass the qualifying rounds for six matches in a row, and her overall performance was disappointing. But that was probably a reflection of the "growing pains" every 19-year-old newcomer has to go through.
In May of that year, her gear was finally properly adjusted, and her results gradually started to improve. But now she had a new reason to be worried. At the end of July, she was going to have to tackle the professional player qualification test she had failed to beat a year earlier by a single shot, which had been a crushing experience for her.
The source of all the stress she started to feel just before such an important period was the issue of how to accurately approach the 100-yard zone. By that time, she had managed to improve her driver shot distance and stabilize the direction, so she had better chances of hitting a wedge shot to the pin. However, whenever she attempted a strong wedge shot at a 52-degree angle by aiming for the 100-yard zone, the backspin got too strong, and the ball did not travel far enough.
"I've always liked controlled wedge shots. I just need to learn how to make them more accurate and strong enough to reach 100 yards."
Nakahara immediately suggested using a 50-degree wedge. That was the most suitable type of gear for Osato at the time, considering her swing data and the analysis of her performance.
That was the skill she had to demonstrate at the professional player qualification test (which she passed by achieving third place) and the tournament that followed.
The short game confidence she gained through that experience allowed her to shine at the CAT Ladies Tournament.
At the final par-5 18th hole, where the flag pin position is always very challenging, she used a pitching wedge for the 105-yard stretch to the flag pin and managed to get the ball exactly within 20 cm from the hole! It was a superb shot that left both the spectators at the venue and TV audiences across the country speechless.
"Just like some of the best golf players abroad, Momoko's swing aims for the ball from above at a sharp angle. Using standard gear with this kind of style will result in excessive spinning. Our job is to make the right adjustments to prevent that. We gather the information we need from our data, whereas Momoko uses her intuition to figure out what needs to be changed. In most cases, our calculations and Momoko's intuition match. I think that's also part of her extraordinary talent."
Nakahara believes that Momoko Osato is one of a few players who show great potential and whose future growth will be exciting to watch.
According to Osato herself, the level of her "golden generation" colleagues, which only two years ago seemed so far ahead, is now almost within reach.
The road ahead will most certainly be rocky.
However, she has incredible potential, a family she can always rely on, and a group of highly skilled gear professionals from Bridgestone Sports.
At this year's CAT Ladies Tournament, we are definitely going to see an even more sophisticated performance by Momoko Osato.