A Victory, and a Long Journey, Bring Japan’s Katsu to Charleston May 29, 2019 | CHARLESTON, S.C. By Ron Driscoll, USGA

After traveling 16 hours from Japan to Charleston, Minami Katsu was able to get in her first practice round at a U.S. Women's Open. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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If there were any doubts about something being lost in translation, Minami Katsu erased them on Sunday. The USGA contacted Katsu last week and informed her that if she moved from her No. 54 position in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings into the top 50, she would earn a spot in this week’s 74th U.S. Women’s Open Championship at the Country Club of Charleston.

“After we told her that she would become exempt into the championship if she got into the top 50, her agent [Mike Kaneko] followed up with a number of questions,” said Matt Sawicki, championship director of the U.S. Women’s Open for the USGA. “We let him know that if she didn’t get into the top 50, she would not get in, and then we found out on Friday that they had already booked a flight to Charleston.”

Katsu did what she could to earn a spot, shooting 62-72 on the weekend to capture the Chukyo TV Bridgestone Ladies Open, her second victory in four weeks on the LPGA of Japan Tour. When the Rolex Rankings came out the following day, Katsu had climbed to No. 46, and her spot in Charleston was assured.

On Tuesday, after flying more than 16 hours from Tokyo, Katsu stood beaming as members of the media asked her about getting into her first major championship. Katsu held the No. 94 ranking in the world on March 11 before a surge that culminated in her victories in the Panasonic Open on May 5 and on Sunday in the Bridgestone event.  

“Two cool things about this – first, she found out she could potentially be exempt into the championship and she found a new gear in her game,” said Sawicki. “And once she got in, she demonstrated how much this championship means by jumping on a plane on Tuesday in Tokyo [Monday in the U.S.] to get here.”

“I’m very honored to make it into the event,” said Katsu, a native of Kagoshima Prefecture whose latest win was her fourth on the LPGA of Japan Tour. “It was unreal, and it is worth it [to make the long trip], because it’s one you don’t usually get into.”

Katsu captured her first event on the Japan tour in 2014 as a 15-year-old amateur, making her the youngest player to win on that tour, breaking the record of Hyo-Joo Kim, who was 16 in 2012.

Now at the ripe old age of 20, Katsu joins a strong contingent of 13 players from Japan in the championship, third-most of any country. She will be joined in the 1:07 p.m. grouping by countrywoman Haruka Amamoto, one of four players who earned her spot in a sectional qualifier on April 22 at Ohtone Country Club in Ibaraki Prefecture in Japan.

Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.