Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Aoki: International Man of Victory

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Aoki: International Man of Victory

Article excerpt

Byline: Garry Smits, The Times-Union

Jack Renner was sitting in the scoring tent off the 18th green of the Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, perhaps going over his acceptance speech for winning the 1983 Hawaiian Open, or preparing for a playoff with Isao Aoki.

What happened was a possibility he hadn't considered.

Aoki, playing in the next group, and one shot behind Renner, had hooked his tee shot into the gallery at the par-5 closing hole, then punched his second short 128 yards short of the green and into more rough.

"From where he was, it would have been a difficult birdie," recalled Renner, who had just birdied the hole for a 66 and a 72-hole total of 19-under-par 269.

It turned into a miraculous eagle, as Aoki used a pitching wedge to gouge his third shot out of the rough, onto the green and with one hop, into the hole for the victory, the first on the PGA Tour by a native of Japan.

That eagle remains the signature shot in a long and distinguished international career for Aoki, who becomes the first Japanese male to enter the World Golf Hall of Fame today. Also entering the Hall with Aoki is Tom Kite, Charlie Sifford and Canadian woman's amateur star Marlene Stewart Streit.

That Hawaiian Open was one of 73 international victories for the 62-year-old Aoki, a farmer's son who learned to play golf as a caddie at the Abiko Golf and Country Club. Aoki won 56 times on the Japanese PGA Tour, nine times on the Champions Tour and shares the Champions Tour record for the lowest 18-hole score, a 60 in the second round of the 1997 Blue Angels Classic.

Aoki is the only Japanese player to have won on six tours. He accomplished his impressive worldwide record with length and accuracy off the tee (he finished among the top 50 on the Champions Tour in driving distance and driving accuracy in the same season from 1993-2000); a short game that other pros envied; and an uncanny putting touch with his own unique style: a short backswing followed by a sharp, sudden stabbing motion, always catching the ball on the heel of his putter.

With that unorthodox style on the greens, he led the Champions Tour in putting in 1995, and was among the top 10 in putting from 1993-1999. …

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