Uehara reverts back to rookie ways
Ayako Uehara is an 11-year veteran in professional golf and a three-time winner on the LPGA of Japan (JLPGA). This year, however, she had to revert back to her rookie ways as she played in her first season as a member of the LPGA Tour.
“I often strived to play better under pressure on the JLPGA Tour,” said Uehara of her career in Japan. “But the LPGA Tour has presented me different fields, grass and difficult setting every tournament, it has kept me stay fresh and focused. I feel like I have gone back to the starting point as a rookie.”
Prior to joining the LPGA, Uehara enjoyed a productive career in Japan which included eight runner-up finishes and three victories with her latest coming at the 2011 Nichi Iko Ladies Open in Tokyo. Seeing the success she had on the JLPGA, Uehara decided to give LPGA Qualifying School a try. She earned her 2013 LPGA Tour card with a third-place finish at the Final Qualifying Tournament in Daytona Beach, Fla. last December, finishing just one stroke off from earning co-medalist honors with Thailand’s Moriya Jutanugarn and Canada’s Rebecca Lee-Bentham.
Uehara opened her rookie season with a tie for 48th at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, admitting she didn’t anticipate the competition to be as tight as it was. But she progressively adapted and notched her first-career top-10 finish at the ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer just five events later.
For any international player, the beginning stages of being an LPGA Tour pro provide for many challenges. But Uehara says she refused to be timid and chose to seize each opportunity that came her way.
“I wanted people on the LPGA Tour to know me so I went up to players and event organizers, and introduced myself,” said Uehara of her first LPGA Tour event. “I was nervous but everything was new and fun.”
While she may not be used to the tight competition on the LPGA Tour, she says other experiences as a rookie on Tour have been more enjoyable than her results.
“I enjoy going to different countries, meeting people and learning about their cultures,” said Uehara. “I believe I grew as a player since I've experienced things which I've never experienced in Japan, thanks to the LPGA Tour. Like, I scored hole-in-one four times on the JLPGA Tour but the hole-in-one in Arkansas this year was probably more exciting.”
The Okinawa, Japan native has played in nearly every Mizuno Classic since 2006, but plays this year as an LPGA Tour member for the first time. She has finished no worse than 44th in five appearances, with her best finish at the event coming last season when she co-led with South Korea’s Jiyai Shin after the first round but ultimately finished in third after a second-round 72 through her off the pace.
“I'm glad that the LPGA Tour comes to Japan,” said Uehara. “I hope all the contestants will enjoy Japanese culture and take something good back home. Last year, I was part of the final race but couldn't quite capture the victory. This year, I would like to seize the opportunity.”
But the one thing she said she is looking forward to the most this week is “being able to show people the improvements that I made by being part of the LPGA Tour.”
While Uehara has plenty of years of professional golf experience, becoming a rookie again has only provided more motivation to succeed on the LPGA Tour. Fellow countrywoman Ai Miyazato says Uehara’s willpower is unmatched by any other player on Tour.
“She’s probably one of the most hard-working players I’ve ever seen,” said Miyazato. “Her short game is just amazing. She’s always practicing no matter what situation, whether she’s tired or happy. That’s why she’s been playing so well this year. I’ve very impressed by her and have no doubt she’ll play great on LPGA.”