SHIGA, JAPAN | More than 6,000 fans packed the galleries on the Seta Golf Course to watch the first round of the TOTO Japan Classic. Friday the crowds just got bigger and are expected to grow even more over the weekend.
Players are thrilled to have so many fans out on the course. Gemma Dryburgh, currently tied for eighth at 6-under par through 36 holes, is delighted with the buzz. She hopes to play with more Japanese players over the weekend and enjoy a larger fan presence.
“There’s so many people out here,” Dryburgh said after her minus-5 second round. “It’s great to see the support for women’s golf. They’re so respectful and clap for everyone, which is great. They’re loud as well, which is great ‘cause you know when you’ve hit a good shot. But they’re loud in a good way, when it’s the right time. They’re very well behaved.”
Unlike Dryburgh, Jeongeun Lee6 had the opportunity to play with a Japanese superstar. Thursday, Lee6 was paired with Hinako Shibuno, who won Japan’s first major in 42 years at the 2019 AIG Women’s British Open. Lee6 was able to reap the rewards of Shibuno’s celebrity status.
“I played with Hinako Shibuno yesterday and I think she’s a superstar in Japan,” Lee6 said after posting a 4-under 68 in round two and jumping to T5 on the leaderboard. “On the first tee box I was so surprised and then I was a little bit excited. I enjoyed it with her. The people are very quiet, their manners are so good.”
Minjee Lee has also been able to ride the wave of fans brought out by Japanese golfers. Paired with LPGA rookie Ayaka Furue for round one and the highest ranked JLPGA player, world No. 24 Mao Saigo, for round two, Lee had an ample audience the first two days.
“I think it’s great that a lot of the Japanese fans support women’s golf,” Lee said. “I know it’s really popular here. It’s just really nice to see people come out and enjoy themselves. Hopefully I can play well and they can clap a lot for me.”
Dryburgh’s wish for more fans will soon be granted when she tees-off with Furue and Atthaya Thitikul in round three. With a 7-time JLPGA winner and a world No. 1 by her side, Dryburgh is sure to have the large crowd she has been hoping for.
Though this is Dryburgh’s TOTO Japan Classic debut, it is not her first visit to the country. In 2014, Dryburgh traveled to the Karuizawa 72 East Golf Club in Nagano – located about five hours away from the Seta Golf Course – for the World Amateur Team Championships. When it comes to the people and the fans, she’s found Japan to be the same as she left it eight years ago.