10-year-old Japanese golfer closes in on 12th sponsor

EL CAJON, Calif. (AP) — Japan’s Miroku Suto looks like a professional golfer with the logos of 11 sponsors splashed across his polo shirt, cap, bag and even his belt. His parents say the deals are worth around six figures a year, with some 10-year contracts. A 12th sponsorship awaits her when she returns home three hours from Tokyo.

Sponsors are so important that Suto’s mother and youngest, former figure skater Miyuki Suto, asked her daughter to change into a sponsor belt before sitting down for a video interview and neatly arranging her hat in his hands so the logos can be seen.

Miroku Suto has extreme confidence, saying through an interpreter that she wants to become “a legend”.

She has a long way to go.

She is only 10 years old.

Although Suto won back-to-back titles in the 6-and-under age group at the World Junior Golf Championships in 2017-18 on a par-3 course, she didn’t do as well as she progressed. by age.

She struggled this year in the 9-10 age group and finished tied for 17th, 18 strokes behind the winner on a par-74 for 4,201 yards at the Sycuan Resort Willow Glen Course. This is the third consecutive time she has left San Diego without a title (the 2020 tournament was canceled due to the pandemic).

As other girls and boys in the 9-10 age group enjoyed themselves on the green awaiting the awards ceremony, Suto did some curbside interviews at a nearby green, including one with a team television station from Tokyo who had followed her for three days. on a suburban course. She acted playfully when she briefly lay on her back and did the equivalent of a snow angel on the shady grass.

Otherwise, it’s all business. She and her mother were dressed similarly, including coral-colored seersucker shorts.

Suto is well known in Japan, a golf-mad country that has produced two great champions over the past year – Hinako Shibuno at the 2019 Women’s British Open and Hideki Matsuyama at the 2021 Masters. television viewing in Japan are higher for women than for men.

Even at his age, Suto’s golf exploits are regularly featured on television, but not so much in the rest of the world – at least not yet.

She is not the first child star. Michelle Wie was 10 when she shot 64 on her home course in Honolulu and became the youngest player to qualify for the US Women’s Amateur Public Links. At 13, she won this tournament and remains the youngest USGA champion. She came close to winning an LPGA major at age 16 and eventually won the US Women’s Open in 2014.

That same year, 11-year-old Lucy Li became the youngest player to qualify for the US Women’s Open. The sixth-grader missed the cut at No. 2 Pinehurst. Earlier this month, now a pro, Li won her second Epson Tour event and is all but assured of an LPGA card for next year.

For sponsorships, Suto came at the right time.

Li got into trouble with the USGA three years ago when she appeared in an Apple ad. At the time, the rules prohibited amateur golfers from using their name or likeness for personal gain in promotions or advertisements for products. The USGA gave him a unique warning.

But the USGA and the R&A – Japan falls under the jurisdiction of the latter – have modernized their rules. Beginning that year, the amateur status rules eliminated all advertising, spending, and sponsorship restrictions. The rule change was aimed at elite amateurs who may need funding to reach their full potential.

The child still has a long way to go to achieve this.

Golf’s most famous prodigy was a young Californian by the name of Tiger Woods. He won his age category at the World Juniors, a tournament that has attracted the world’s best since 1968, six times in eight years.

Sponsorship money was not available for Woods, who appeared on the “Mike Douglas Show” when he was 2 years old. During his World Golf Hall of Fame induction speech in March, Woods spoke passionately about his parents taking out a second mortgage on their home to pay for his development through the national junior programs.

Mexico’s Lorena Ochoa, another Hall of Famer, won five consecutive World Junior Championships in her age category.

Suto has won other international junior titles, such as the US Kids Championship last year, as well as titles in Malaysia and Europe.

Acknowledging with a laugh that it’s “very difficult” to win these tournaments, she said her putting wasn’t good at the World Juniors. She also broke her driver during a practice ride and a new one was hastily ordered and brought in by the Tokyo TV crew.

Suto, who is homeschooled, said she would like to match Woods’ six junior world titles. She has plenty of time, given that the top end is the 15-18 age group.

Does Suto feel pressure?

“No pressure,” she said.

And it doesn’t lack attention or sponsorship as she pursues her goals.


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