Christmas has come early for Shugo Imahira after he booked his place at The 148th Open at Royal Portrush by winning the 2018 Official Money List on the Japan Golf Tour.
The 26-year-old capped off a brilliant season by finishing in a tie for eighth at the Golf Nippon Series JT Cup, which was enough to ensure he topped this year’s money list.
South African Shaun Norris was his nearest rival going into the finale at Tokyo Yomiuri County Club, but he was only able to come in a tie for 15th as Imahira claimed the Order of Merit crown.
It means Imahira is the latest player to earn exemption for The Open next July, with Norris also qualifying courtesy of his second-place finish in the Official Money List race.
But who is the Japanese sensation? As we continue to profile each of the players who have come through The Open Qualifying Series, here’s the lowdown on Imahira.
Imahira won twice on the 2014 Japan Challenge Tour en route to winning the season money list title, having demonstrated his potential as a teenager by winning the 2008 Japan Junior Championship.
He started playing full-time on the Japan Golf Tour in 2015, with his best finish coming in the Shigeo Nagashima Invitational Sega Sammy Cup, where he finished in a tie for second.
Another runner-up place followed in 2016 in the Gateway to the Open Mizuno Open, which earned him exemption to The 145th Open at Royal Troon.
It was a case of second time lucky for Imahira, who finished one shot behind KT Kim to qualify a year after missing out at the same event by a single stroke.
Imahira also had a third-place finish and three fourth-place finishes that season, coming tenth in the money list for that season, before claiming his first win on tour at the Kansai Open in 2017.
First major appearance
Royal Troon was Imahira’s major championship debut as he travelled to Ayrshire to battle it out with the world’s best golfers for the honour of lifting the Claret Jug.
It was a challenge he said he was relishing before The 145th Open. “I am really excited to be going to play in such a special event,” said then 23-year-old.
“In my mind I think of links courses as being very hard and fast, so I will need to prepare. It’s going to be a very tough challenge, but I am very much looking forward to it.”
And Imahira got off to a dream start as he opened the championship with an impressive three-under 68, which left him just two shots behind second place on the leaderboard.
A weather-hit second day proved his downfall, though, as he missed the cut after struggling to a nine-over 80 on the Friday before Henrik Stenson went on to be crowned Champion Golfer.
A year to remember
Few individuals in world golf have been more consistent in 2018 than Imahira, who has risen up the rankings with no less than 14 top ten finishes on his way to winning the Official Money List.
The world No.55 signalled his intent by finishing tied fourth at the Panasonic Open Championship and tied sixth at The Crowns in the spring in a strong start to his campaign.
A second place at the Kansai Open followed soon after, while he finished tied third at the JGT Championship Mori Building Cup Shishido Hills and the Shigeo Nagashima Invitational.
His form continued into the summer with a third place at the RIZAP KBC Augusta, before claiming back-to-back runners-up spots at the Fujisankei Classic and ISPS Handa Match Play.
And having had several near misses, Imahira won his second Japan Golf Tour title at the Bridgestone Open, where he birdied the last three holes to beat Masahiro Kawamura by one shot.
Four more top ten finishes before the end of the season ensured he claimed the Official Money List crown – and with it, a place on the first tee at Royal Portrush next year.