/

‘Cowboy Shingo’ tips hat to Masters achievement

by Jason Coskrey

The first thing you notice is the hat.

With his trademark cowboy hat perched atop his head, it would be hard to mistake Shingo Katayama for anyone else on any golf course in the world.

Which is just the way “Cowboy Shingo” likes it.

“When I was in high school, I heard a story about Shigeo Nagashima,” a hatless Katayama said at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan on Tuesday afternoon. “I had heard that despite the fact that all baseball players wear the same uniform on a team, you could tell immediately that it was Nagashima if you simply looked at his shadow.

“So when I became a pro golfer, I thought this aspect was important. I wanted something that would leave the impression it was Shingo Katayama if a person simply saw my shadow.”

Recently it’s his play, as well as the hat, that has gotten people’s attention.

Katayama is coming off a brilliant performance at the Masters, where he equaled the best-ever result by a Japanese golfer in the prestigious tournament with a fourth-place finish.

“My goal was to be able to compete in the tournament, then score in my 60′s and ultimately on the last day, I decided with my coach that I wanted to be able to be on the (leader) board on the final half of the last day,” Katayama said. “That was the dream I had for Augusta.

“In fact, my name remained on the board all the way through the 18th hole. So my feeling through the second half of that tournament was that I had finally realized my dream.”

Despite being one of Japan’s most famous golfers Katayama was not the focus of the media’s attention at the start of the Masters. That was reserved for 17-year-old phenom Ryo Ishikawa. For which the 36-year-old was grateful.

“It was truly great,” Katayama joked. “Because it was not just the first two days but starting from practice people left me alone. So it was truly a great thing.

“The practice round is a truly important one. Because I was able to freely do what I wanted to do there, it was very good for me.”

Ishikawa would miss the cut at Augusta but Katayama saw a lot of positives in the young golfer’s experience.

“I think he was able to study many good things there and acquire many good experiences,” he said. “Even the U.S. players admit that, in regards to Augusta, there are certain skills that can only be used there or certain types of golf play that can only be used in Augusta.

“The fact that he was able to experience that for the first time is something that makes me look forward to seeing how that will be reflected in his practice.”

Katayama has played in 27 majors, also finishing fourth in the 2001 PGA Championship, and 55 overall events on the PGA Tour, where he gets to test his skills against Tiger Woods and the other superstars of the sport.

“I believe, most likely, many have only seen Tiger Woods on the television screen,” Katayama said. “So it is a very rare opportunity to truly see what he is like. He’s truly a candid, frank person. In the (locker room) he may wear my 10-gallon hat.

“Until last year we were contracted to the same manufacturer and he would often come up to me and, although I am not so capable in English, he would talk to me in words I could understand. He’s truly a nice person.”

Katayama can expect to see more of Woods as he sets his sights on competing in the upcoming U.S. Open on the notoriously tough Bethpage Black course.

“Although it is really difficult on a golfer, it’s a tournament you can get excited about, Katayama said. “It’s a tough golf course I will be facing. So I’m really looking forward to see how I can play there.”