ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — Isao Aoki officially became the first male Japanese golfer in history to join the World Golf Hall of Fame on Monday when he was honored at an induction ceremony.
The 62-year-old Aoki, who was elected on the international ballot in April, was one of four players recognized for their achievement and contribution, and inducted at World Golf Village in an evening ceremony that was open to the public.
“It’s easy to comment after winning a tournament, but I can’t find the right words to describe how I feel now,” said Aoki.
“It just made me realize once again how quickly time flies,” he said.
Aoki is the second Japanese golfer to enter the Hall after Hisako Higuchi, chairwoman of the Ladies Professional Golfers’ Association of Japan, became the 98th member in May last year.
Aoki won 73 times around the world and is the only Japanese player to win on six tours. He is best known for holing out for eagle on the 18th hole in the 1983 Hawaiian Open to become the first Japanese player to win on the PGA Tour.
“I think he’s the Arnold Palmer of Japanese golf,” said Greg Norman, who introduced him. “To travel from your home shores is not an easy task.”
Joining Aoki in a most diverse class of inductees were Charlie Siffford, the first black player on the PGA Tour, Canadian amateur Marlene Stewart Streit; and former U.S. Open champion Tom Kite, whose endless work ethic brought him 19 victories.
Sifford waved his crystal trophy before the crowd, unable to contain his smile.
Moments later, when he looked out at Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and other Hall of Famers who celebrated his historic induction, Sifford bowed his head and softly tapped the podium with his fist, squeezing his eyes as he choked back tears.
“This makes me feel like I’m a worthwhile professional golfer,” Sifford said.
Sifford was elected through the Lifetime Achievement category.
He risked ridicule and threats breaking through the Caucasian-only clause on the PGA, finally rescinded in 1961 after Sifford became the first black on tour.
Sifford won twice on the PGA Tour and later captured the 1975 Senior PGA Championship.