News All Articles
Keita Nakajima driven by desire to win on biggest stages as US PGA Championship debut nears

Keita Nakajima driven by desire to win on biggest stages as US PGA Championship debut nears

By Mathieu Wood

In his rookie season on the DP World Tour, Keita Nakajima has adapted to new surroundings in impressive fashion and has another opportunity to shine on his US PGA Championship debut.

Keita Nakajima-1744095093
Keita Nakajima is making his second start at a Major Championship as a professional this week

At this week’s second Major Championship of the year, held at Valhalla Golf Club, the Japanese will complete the full set of contesting golf’s four biggest events either as an amateur or professional.

While known to most within the game having spent a record 87 weeks atop the World Amateur Golf Ranking between 2020 and 2022, Nakajima has firmly placed himself in the wider consciousness this year.

As result of a pathway formed with the Japan Golf Tour Organisation, he is competing on the DP World Tour after finishing top of last season’s Order of Merit in his homeland where he won on three occasions.

In his sixth appearance of the Race to Dubai campaign, and 11th DP World Tour start all told, the 23-year-old clinched victory at the Hero Indian Open in March, becoming the second of three Japanese winners so far this season.

The victory, coupled with a strong showing on home soil at the ISPS HANDA – CHAMPIONSHIP, helped him seal an exemption into the US PGA Championship by finishing as one of the top three finishers on the Asian Swing.

While confidence is high, Nakajima arrives at Valhalla with a point to prove on the Major stage and a hunger to prove himself adept at competing with the best on the biggest of stages.

in an exclusive interview, he tells the DP World Tour: "A Major tournament is a very special week but my preparation does not change. My focus is to prepare myself as close to 100% as possible.

"Compared to other tournaments, I believe I need to be much more resilient and play with a strong determination to win."

After joining the paid ranks in September 2022, Nakajima made his first Major start as a professional in The 151st Open at Royal Liverpool last summer.

This week presents itself with an opportunity to achieve a first: make the cut at a Major. With that in mind, what are the biggest learnings he has taken from his four previous appearances?

"What I’ve learned is that it’s important not to be distracted by the pressure and overall atmosphere of the tournament," he explains.

"There is so much more pressure playing in a Major tournament so it’s essential to play just like a regular tournament."

One of seven Japanese players on the Race to Dubai Rankings in Partnership with Rolex, Nakajima is learning a lot about himself as he tests himself on a global platform.

After a tie for fourth in Ras Al Khaimah, he missed two of his next three cuts, before finishing inside the top 30 in each of his three starts on the Asian Swing, highlighted of course by his maiden DP World Tour triumph at DLF Golf & Country Club in India, regarded as one of the toughest courses on the schedule.

Despite having only played in seven events, comparatively fewer than others around him on the season-long rankings, Nakajima sits 16th and well placed to feature in the lucrative DP World Tour Play-Offs at the end of the campaign, while also being in the reckoning for Dual Membership status on the PGA TOUR by finishing as one of the top ten not already exempt.

"As far as on the course, [so far this season] I was able to stay strong and competitive even when I was on the borderline of missing the cut," he says.

"This is a very important factor as a professional golfer. Also, being able to compete for a championship in only my sixth tournament [in India] was a great experience."

But he is always targeting improvement.

"Off the course, I need to execute my physical training to maintain a strong physical condition," he adds.

But back to the here and now. In Louisville, Kentucky, Nakajima will tee it up as one of four Japanese players - alongside Hideki Matsuyama, Ryo Hisatsune, and Takumi Kanaya.

In relatively new surroundings, the familiarity of knowing those three countrymen, will likely help his preparations.

Valhalla Golf Club is hosting the US PGA Championship for the fourth time this week

"I have several good Japanese friends on the Tour," he said. "I will be going on a practice round with Hideki Matsuyama so I am sure that I will learn from him immensely."

Having already won for the first time on the DP World Tour, and now being set for his US PGA Championship appearance, Nakajima hopes another first lies ahead as qualification for this summer's Olympic Games nears a conclusion.

Ranked 78th on the Official World Golf Ranking, having reached a career-high 75th last month, he occupies the second qualifying spot for Japan alongside 2021 Masters Tournament winner.

"Playing in the Olympics is the most important goal for this year aside from earning exemption for the PGA TOUR in 2025," he says.

"I would like to work hard to be a part of the national team and represent my country by wearing the national team uniform with the rising sun, which is the symbol of Japan."

A good performance this week will go a long way to making his Olympic dream a reality and create another chance to realise more firsts.

Read next