Photo/IllutrationHinako Shibuno flashes a smile in the final round of the NEC Karuizawa 72 golf tournament in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, on Aug. 18. (Ko Matsuda)

Many professional golfers lead a life of constant traveling.

After winning the Women's British Open in her first LPGA event at Milton Keynes on Aug. 4, Hinako Shibuno returned home to hit the greens in Sapporo, Hokkaido, for an LPGA of Japan Tour tournament held Aug. 9-11.

That was followed by Shibuno playing in another tournament in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, which started on Aug. 16.

The LPGA of Japan Tour is a series of tournaments for female golfers that starts in spring and lasts until early winter, with events held across the nation. At this time of the year, the tour visits summer resorts.

Golfers taking part in the tour spend 60 to 70 percent of their days in hotels. Many of them do all the chores involved themselves, from arranging lodging and transportation to doing their laundry.

Only 20 or so women pass a playing test and become professional golfers every year, well below 10 percent of the applicants.

Becoming a pro does not guarantee a berth in JLPGA tournaments, however, with only about 50 golfers qualifying to play in all the tournaments. A life of nonstop travel is actually a prize earned by climbing up the very long ladder to the top ranks of players.

Interestingly, the women’s tour has overtaken the men’s tour in popularity in Japan. The number of LPGA of Japan tournaments has increased to 39, while that of men’s events, operated by the Japan Golf Tour Organization, has declined almost by half from its peak to 25.

The Ladies Professional Golfers’ Association of Japan has been striving to find and foster young talent, taking steps like allowing amateur players to play in tournaments.

The association has also been committed to ensuring that pro golfers acquire basic social knowledge and cultivate good manners, providing training programs on such subjects as the tour system, taxes and etiquette.

The success of the Japanese ladies’ tour has been achieved through years of steady and well-focused efforts.

Japanese women’s professional golf has a half-century of history.

Trailblazer Hisako Higuchi, who was among the first Japanese women to become a professional golfer, won the LPGA Championship in 1977. Then came Ayako Okamoto, who became the leading money winner on the U.S. LPGA Tour in 1987.

But the ranks of female pro golfers in Japan were thin.

After taking the helm at the association, Higuchi pushed through various reforms, helping to generate a new breed of players, including Ai Miyazato.

Many in the generation of the 20-year-old Shibuno were inspired by Miyazato’s achievements.

The history of Japanese female pro golfers has had many ups and downs. Its future probably has many more twists and turns in store.

Still, the number of those who are always on the road is on a steady rise.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 18

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.