The magical putting touch of Japanese golf idol Isao Aoki was on full display in an exhibition match yesterday at Washington's Langston course that also included host pro Lee Elder, Gary Player and Al Green. All four will play in the Kemper Open Thursday at Congressional Country Club.
Aoki speaks very little English, but with his unorthodox putting style, with the toe of the club in the air and using a lot of wrist motion, he speaks very fluently on the greens. Aoki sank birdie putts of 20, 15, seven and six feet and rimmed the cup on three other attempts to win the nine-hole exhibition in 33 strokes over Langston's par-36 back nine. Elder and Green shot 34 and Player carded even-par 36.
"If I had a putting stroke like that, I'd make a million," said Elder, who arranged the clinic and exhibition, benefiting the Lee Elder Scholarship Foundation Inc., which gives financial aid to college youths.
Aoki had the gallery and fellow players laughing and shaking their heads in disbelief with his uncanny ability on the greens.
He sank a seven-foot birdie putt on his first hole, the par-4 10th, and followed with a 15-footer for birdie on the next hole. When he walked up to the green at the 12th hole to survey a six-foot attempt for his third straight birdie, Elder jested. "That's good, Aoki," as if conceding him the putt. Aoki struck the putt and it looked like it was going to drop, but the ball rimmed the hole and spun out. He was human after all.
"Aoki is a very fine golfer," said Player. "What he did in the U.S. Open last year, matching (Jack) Nicklaus shot for shot down to the last hole, was incredible. He has helped golf in Japan become the second-biggest circuit in the world."
Player, from South Africa, said he was glad to play in the exhibition. He said when Elder played in the South African PGA in 1971, it paved the way for integrated sports in South Africa. Player said there are about 50 black pros on the South African golf circuit.
"I think Lee Elder played a very big role in integrated sports in South Africa. I think he should be given some kind of medal by the State Department for diplomacy."