Young Kuwata started playing baseball at just two years old, dreaming of turning professional. He started with a schools’ tournament most young Japanese would only aspire to play in once – and played a record five times.
He was snapped up by Japan’s top baseball team the Tokyo Giants, and in his early 20’s fulfilled another dream by playing two seasons of major league baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In the two to three months he had off, he’d play golf. And as is the case with many professional sportspeople, he turned out to be pretty good at it.
Enjoying his first-ever visit to Queenstown where he’s scheduled to play in the celebrity field for the ISPS Handa New Zealand Open (March 9 – 12), 49-year-old Kuwata said he played off “only a six”.
And despite the fact that puts him among some of the best celebrity guests to tee off this coming Thursday, the humble sports star said he was “a bit worried” about the Millbrook course.
“The course looks a bit difficult, a bit more narrow than courses I’m used to playing,” he said. “I don’t want to end up in the rough!”
Calling Millbrook Resort “really beautiful”, he said he was looking forward to partnering with top Japanese professional and personal friend Toshi Muto, playing in the tournament for the fourth time.
“I’m very happy to be playing with professional players because a chance to play four days with a pro is really something special. I’m looking forward to learning from him,” he said.
“I’m delighted to have been invited to play and I’m really looking forward to making a contribution to Japanese and New Zealand relationships by taking part in the tournament.”
As a baseball pitcher, Kuwata was admittedly one of the smallest professionals, but said it was all about speed.
“I wasn’t the power pitcher, it was about control. I’ve always loved golf and my brother played tournaments as a pro and now teaches. Now I’m retired I’m seeing what I can do with it.”
On retirement he went to university and achieved a Masters degree in sports science, and is currently studying for his PHD. He keeps up his love of baseball as a baseball commentator in print and on TV, and in his ‘spare’ time does charity work.
“Recognising that baseball has given a lot to me, I do a lot of work throughout Japan with injured or disabled youth baseball players,” he said.
Among the professionals at this year’s ISPS Handa New Zealand Open, more than 20 Japanese and Korean players from the Japan Tour have confirmed. The Japanese contingent confirmed for Queenstown includes leading players Yusaku Miyazato, Shunsuke Sonoda, Toshinori Muto and Ryutaro Nagano.
While these players may not be household golfing names in this New Zealand, the sextet have secured 16 wins between them on the Japan Golf Tour, and combined career earnings of around NZ$22million.