This year's Hong Kong Open is the second appearance for the Year 13 student from West Island School. But this time he is entering with more fanfare. He came fourth in the qualifying tournament for the Open last year and played as a qualifier. This year, he gained his ticket to the annual golf event with titles in the 2011 Men's Closed Championship in February and the 2011 Hong Kong Junior Closed Championship in May.
Winning titles didn't make Shinichi complacent. He has worked hard over the past month to boost his form. "I spent five weeks in the United States for training. I also competed in tournaments non-stop during my stay and I could tell you all about mental tiredness after the competitions," he says.
Shinichi's career started at Discovery Bay Golf Club. "I live in Discovery Bay and the club gives me an advantage. I can always go there and play golf. My dad brought me to watch him play golf when I was a kid and I had my first golf lesson at 12," says Shinichi.
Some may think that taking up a new sport at the age of 12 is a bit too late to catch up with other young stars, but Shinichi proved them wrong. In just three years, he won his first national title at the Hong Kong Junior Closed Championships 2009, beating many older, well-known local junior players. It was a sweet experience for Shinichi. "I was delighted to claim this victory. But other players and spectators had no idea who I was," he says. His incredible performance won him a fast pass to the national team and opportunities to compete overseas.
Like many athletes, Shinichi also experienced a bottleneck in his career. "I was not doing well in the first half of 2010 and I missed the chance to play at the Asian Games," he says. But he regained his form after participating in last year's Hong Kong Open and claimed the two national titles. Continuing his top form, he came second in the individual and team event of the 51st Putra Cup (the South East Asia Amateur Golf Team Championship) in September.
Shinichi's comeback late last year inspired other players, including his 15-year-old younger brother Shinya Mizuno. The Year 11 student from Discovery College was Shinichi's caddy at last year's Hong Kong Open. "My brother takes me as his role model in the sport. He is willing to learn and take my advice. I believe he will also become a competitive player in Hong Kong in the future," says Shinichi. Shinya came overall 120th in the tournament last year.
For this year's Hong Kong Open, the 1.72m Shinichi will have a "special" caddy, his national team coach Brad Schadewitz. Schadewitz thinks Shinichi has good personal characteristics that lead him to success. "The teenager has pride in himself. He loves the sport and always pushes himself to work harder," he says.
Schadewitz and his student aim to make the cut, but that all depends on how Shinichi feels this week. "Golf is a sport that really depends on the condition of the player. How Shinichi feels in swinging and hitting the ball will be the key factor affecting his results," says the coach.
Besides golf, Shinichi is also busy with his exam preparations. He will complete high school next year. He flew to Japan to attend a university interview earlier this month. The Hong Kong champion says he will still play for Hong Kong in the future irrespective of where he is studying for his degree. "I need to thank the Hong Kong team for giving me great support and I am happy to represent the city," says Shinichi.
For event details, visit www.ubshongkongopen.com.