Golfer's alleged crime casts harsh light on conditions for pro wannabes

TOKYO —

On Nov 15, Yamagata prefectural police announced the arrest of female professional golfer Yuki Nishimura, on suspicion of theft. While in Yamagata to play in a competition on Oct 24, police allege Nishida stole a credit card from the locker of another competitor and used the card to purchase various items.

While such an incident may be unprecedented in the annals of ladies’ professional golf in Japan, Shukan Post (Dec 7) remarks that, given the financial situation of a majority of players, it’s hardly surprising.

Nishimura, 23, graduated from Saitama Sakai High School, an institution famous for nurturing golfers, and passed the qualification test for turning pro in 2008. That same year two classmates from the same school finished the season ranked 6th and 29th, earning the former more than 75 million yen and the later about 30 million yen.

But Nishimura, over the previous four years, only managed to qualify for four tournaments, and her total lifetime prize winnings came to just 860,000 yen.

“Women’s pro golf may enjoy an aura of glamor, but those who actually make it big are only a tiny fraction,” a source close to the sport tells the magazine. “Currently out of the 973 female players registered on the pro tour, just 63 earned more than 10 million yen. The ‘break even’ line is 165th place, which would bring in about 220,000 yen. So the earnings for the remaining 800 or so players is basically zero. Most female pro golf players lead impoverished lives.”

Things were not always this bad. In better times, tournament participants could at least rely on a guarantee of 100,000 yen from corporate sponsors to cover expenses. And opportunities to work as golf instructors also brought in income. But those days are long gone. Notwithstanding the 100,000 yen or so it costs to travel to a tournament in some of the country’s more remote locations, some pros are hard pressed to even keep up their monthly 4,000 yen dues to the association. And some are reportedly working part time as waitresses in restaurants.

“The ones who are lucky can get free golf balls and equipment from the manufacturers,” said the aforementioned source. “And with so many country clubs going under financially, it’s become hard for many of them to even find places to practice, let alone earn income.

“I’ve even heard that some of them have become so desperate to get sponsors, after a tournament they’ll initiate email correspondence with men they’ve met up with—the sort of thing you’d be more likely to expect from a cabaret hostess.”

The magazine also points out that it’s not merely perennially unsung players who find themselves in a financial bind. Two women at the pinnacle of the sport—Momoko Ueda and Shiho Oyama—both failed to reach top-seeded rankings in the 2012 season. The point here being that previous success is no guarantee of stable future earnings. The fact is, a career in pro golf entails risks and anyone could go from riches to rags in a very short time.

On Oct 24, the day Nishimura allegedly committed the theft, she had posted on her blog, “Here in Yamagata I caught sight of a rainbow for the first time in quite a while.” But when, Shukan Post asks rhetorically, will the rain that’s been drenching her let up, and allow another rainbow to make its appearance?

  • 9

    mikihouse

    Having no money does not equate to having the rights to steal.

    She doesn't have any talent in golf as most of Japanese golfer are so why not find a job. A real job.

  • 8

    DentShop

    And some are reportedly working part time as waitresses in restaurants.

    Heaven forbid!

  • 14

    sakurala

    I have a problem with athletes who think that the world owes them an amazing paycheck. Why should they be making more tha doctors who save lives, teachers who educate the most impressionable people at the most important times and other people who make a huge difference in our society? I think that they should not feel it is below themselves to have a part-time job to make ends meet. If they can't makethe cut to go to many tournements, then that means they have even more time to make cash on the side.

  • 2

    Matthew Simon

    They obviously watch to many American sports and see them raking in those insane salaries. Seriously, you play a sport I don't think any of them warrant much pay as said above. It would be far more interesting to watch amateurs having fun compared to pros going on strike because that 100mil isn't enough money.

  • 0

    Scrote

    I, too, would like to get paid for hitting a ball with a stick, but it's not going to happen. If you're not good enough you have to earn a living some other way. Even the pro baseball salaries they have been printing in the paper today are, in many cases, only about the same as my salary (and I'm not exactly rolling in cash). Very few of them make over Y10 million a year.

  • 1

    DentShop

    Very few of them make over Y10 million a year.

    I take it we are talking about Nippon League? MLB minimum salary is very, very high.

  • -2

    saidani

    Unlike team sports like baseball, golf is an individual effort. In team sports, a player enters a system which weeds out the less talented players, forcing them to seek other careers (except for American baseball players who can come to Japan and play once they have washed out of the MLB).

    The golfer, on the other hand, has to make that judgement for herself and it is very difficult to do at times. I remember following the difficulties of US golfer Scott Verplank who struggled to make reach his potential on tour. In casual rounds with friends, he would regularly shoot low scores (64, 65, 66) but could not do the same in a tournament.

    To be sure, many of the unsuccessful women on the Japanese tour face the same situation and it makes it doubly hard to give up their dream while knowing they have the talent to compete even if they can't recognize that they do not have the ability to handle the pressure of competition. This is a sad and familiar story for anyone who has experienced the emotional wreck caused when one's life-long dream collides head-on with reality.

    Not justifying the theft but I hope she recovers from this and finds happiness in life.

  • 1

    Cos

    Nishida stole a credit card from the locker of another competitor

    You don't go lower. Stealing is bad. But stealing from a fellow player. How do they say ? Sport spirit ?

    I have a problem with athletes who think that the world owes them an amazing paycheck.

    I agree. It's a recent change that they expect the sport to be a paycheck. Maybe in last 30 years that became insane. My uncle explained me that when he played (for about 10 yrs) national and international level rugby, he was a full-time worker, doing night shifts in a big factory. So were all his team mates. Their employers would help them by giving a few free holidays to travel to matches abroad, accepting they take unpaid leaves when needed, the primes were meant to cover that income loss, sponsors paid the basic expenses, they often stayed in the houses of players of the other team on visiting matches. The captain of the team could receive a half-salary (and work only part at his day job). Only a dozen of guys in the country were calling it their full-time job, the top players, and that lasted a few seasons only. Though times, and they consider that were the heydays of rugby as all the guys back then played purely because they loved it. Well that was a good thing they got a little more financial means, that a few more could take a break from work, live from sport during a few years. But that went to the inverse excess with thousands that consider they are professionals and the world owes them a full salary due till they are 60 , or retire earlier as millionaires. They take it for granted as soon as they are in the 1000 best of their age group in any sport. Many fall from high. Surely families, coaches and sports federations have a responsibility in that delusion.

    it doubly hard to give up their dream while knowing they have the talent to compete

    Same for my career in opera, and that of millions of people that sing like Pavarotti in their bathroom. Talent to compete is for amateurs. To be a pro, it's talent to win, no only win competitions but also make the cash come in (sponsors or ticket sales) and some sports will never be profitable.

  • 2

    Yubaru

    Sad story? No, stupid woman? In this case yes! How many of us have to work one, two, or maybe three jobs to keep food on the table for our children and a roof over their heads. Do we steal from our co-workers to do this? Not just no, but HELL no.

    I hope no one feel sorry for her, she made a choice to be a golfer, and with any sport only a very few here in Japan really have the talent to succeed, and evidently she didnt.

    Maybe she'll learn her lesson and find something else to do....like waiting tables! Damn a job is a job,

  • 1

    tmarie

    Laughable. She steals from someone because she sucks at golf for her level? Another fine example of why I think athletes need an education. What is she going to do for the rest of her life? Oh, right. Find a husband.

  • 3

    Fadamor

    Hmm. I've had a professional-quality guitar for decades, yet I've never recorded a hit. Should I get a different job to support my life, or should I steal money from other musicians and continue trying to be a rocker? Decisions, decisions!

    Golf is a competion more than a "sport". It is very cerebral and it is there where the true professionals are winnowed from the posers. You're not competing against the other players so much as you're competing against yourself. Unlike baseball where you have (maybe) three-quarters of a second to decide whether to swing or not, in golf you have plenty of time to contemplate your next swing. You select, then reject different clubs and approaches as you walk up to your ball and it's only the pros who can consistently settle on the right combinations.

    Nishimura-san is not a pro golfer. She should have realized this long before now, but I guess the pressure of graduation from a school known for its golf program over-rode any form of realistic self-evaluation.

  • 0

    Vernie Jefferies

    She should get an endorsement deal with Alsok and let Saori Yoshida tackle a real thief at the of those commercials.

  • 0

    iceshoecream

    What is she going to do for the rest of her life? Oh, right. Find a husband.

    OMG! That is so funny but at the same time so true.

  • 0

    DudeDeuce

    It's about time we get another bad boy/girl in golf. It has been awhile since the Tiger Woods "disease" news. Before that it was drunk a$$ John Daly.

  • 0

    Zen student

    If someone was like 'on the brink of starving' poor, maybe I could understand this kind of behavior (still wouldn't condone it!) but this is simply criminal and shows a true lack of morals. I say throw the book at her j-cops and don't let her off easily. Need to set an example that this kind of behavior is simply inexcusable.

  • 0

    tmarie

    Ice, sad that many Japanese women think this. I feel for the men here who marry the leeches.

  • 2

    Droll Quarry

    Scary when this many people on JT agree.......

  • 0

    megosaa

    “The ones who are lucky can get free golf balls and equipment from the manufacturers,”

    yeah, riiight. like that's gonna pay the rent and put food on the table. no wonder this generation of kids has lost all hopes and dreams. most when asked, wants to be a 公務員 when they grow up.

  • 0

    Himajin

    Scary when this many people on JT agree.......

    Maybe it will snow ;-D

  • 0

    whiskeysour

    Do. Or do not. There is no try. f>rom Master Yoda

    It's a rich man's sport.... If you don't have a SPONSOR or you don't perform well.... You will get eaten alive. Great equipment goes to great players.

    Now, if your not hungry enough or have personal problems like (Tiger Woods) you will not go anywhere.

    It's " GAME ON " !!!!!

  • 0

    DentShop

    or have personal problems like (Tiger Woods) you will not go anywhere.

    Ummm... Tiger Woods is one of the most successful and famous sportsmen of all time.

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