The American had played just one European Tour event when he arrived at the Qualifying School last year, advancing through all three stages to finish tied third in the Final Stage at Lumine Golf Club and earn his playing privileges.
He made the cut at the season-opener in Hong Kong and then claimed his maiden title last week at the Afrasia Bank Mauritius Open at Anahita to announce he had truly arrived.
Louis Oosthuizen set the early pace at Randpark Golf Club with a 62 over the Bushwillow Course but Kitayama carded the lowest round of the day over the Firethorn to get to eight under after round one in South Africa.
“Last week in Mauritius was mentally very draining, trying to stay calm and hold that lead for the entire last round,” he said. “It definitely took a toll coming into this week. I felt tired during the pro-am and decided to play only nine holes on Wednesday because I just wanted to rest up.
“The relaxed approach definitely helped. I played Firethorn in the pro-am so tomorrow when I play Bushwillow we’ll see if resting helped me. But I think that mentally just getting the rest is the most important thing.”
Madalitso Muthiya also took inspiration from last week in Mauritius - although in very different fashion - to sign for a 63 over the Bushwillow and sit alongside Kitayama.
The Zambian bogeyed two of his last three holes at Four Seasons Golf Club and admitted that spurred him on six days later.
“I did get the feeling a good performance was looming,” he said. “I played exceptionally well in Mauritius and missed the cut by one. I looked at that and learnt from those errors and just built on the positive things I did last week.
“I’m pleased with the way I started. I converted the chances I had, I struck the ball nicely. There wasn’t too much happening in terms of missing greens so that was a very good thing to have today.”
South African Zander Lombard carded a 64 on the Firethorn and felt he was in a good position heading to the shorter but narrower Bushwillow.
"On Firethorn, I feel like you can quickly make a drop and I managed to keep those off the card,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to Bushwillow, I think it’s much more playable than Firethorn. It’s a lot of irons off the tee and your wedge game has got to be on point. I’m keeping my expectations down and I’ll just play shot for shot, hole for hole, keep that cliché going and hopefully I can post a low one tomorrow as well."
Hopefully I can post a low one tomorrow as well - Zander Lombard
Matt Wallace played alongside Oosthuizen and was pleased to post a 65 in his first round since finishing second at the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.
“I’ll take the positives from today and go again tomorrow,” he said.
“I’m a really intense player, I think you guys can see that on the course. I need to be intense to play the best golf that I know I can.
“So to have time off and not think about golf and do nothing and then come back and find that intensity - I found it tough near the start today to really pick out my spots when reading putts. I slowly got into that and holed a couple of good ones round the end.”