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?