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Imada Steps Up to Help Japan

The death and damage has been widespread in Japan as relief efforts continue almost a week since the 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit.
© Getty Images

March 17, 2011

Wednesday afternoon at the Transitions Championship, Ryuji Imada sat down and handwrote a note that he then made copies in the tournament’s media center. His one-paragraph missive was to the point:

“Dear Players: As you may know last week there was an earthquake disaster in my home country of Japan. To support the many people affected by the earthquake. I have decided to donate $1,000 per birdie I make at this week’s event. I would be thankful for any of my fellow competitors to join me in support with any donations. Ryuji Imada”

Imada then took the notes into the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club’s clubhouse and asked the locker room attendant to put a copy in the players’ lockers. Imada’s was a simple statement and a plea from the Hiroshima, Japan, native, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1990 as a 14-year-old as he pursued his dream of playing golf professionally. Imada, a PGA TOUR member since 2005 who attended college at the University of Georgia, wants to help those whose lives changed dramatically when the earthquake, registering 9.0 on the Richter Scale, shook the earth. As Imada says, he’s doing “in a small way” what he can to assist those devastated by the events in Asia. With the Transitions Championship this week in Palm Harbor, Fla., not far from Imada’s home in Tampa, the winner of the 2008 AT&T Classic took time to visit with Laury Livsey of the PGA TOUR’s communications department to talk about the situation and why he immediately became involved with earthquake relief.

It seems like there has been quite a few natural disasters recently, and now here’s one that hits pretty close to home for you.
Disasters do happen. I’ve seen (Hurricane) Katrina and what happened in New Orleans. I’ve seen other hurricanes that came through Florida. Luckily, I haven’t been affected by those too much. These things happen, and what happened over there in the northeast part of Japan is something that’s terrible. It’s very unfortunate.

The bulk of your family still lives in Japan. Is everybody OK?
I have my parents, my brother and sister there. I knew where the earthquake hit, and I knew it was nowhere near my parents (in Hiroshima), so I assumed they were OK. I later talked to them, and everybody is fine. But Japan is not. I’ve never seen anything like it. So many houses destroyed. Everything was torn down by the earthquake or the tsunami. I really feel for the people.

You knew pretty much instantaneously what had happened, didn’t you?
I have a Japanese TV channel at my home in Tampa. I saw there was a big earthquake. Next thing I know, the big tsunami, they’re showing it on TV, and I pretty much saw it live.

You had a friend who nobody could locate for a few days. Can you provide an update?
The guy who caddies for me when I play in Japan, Takahide Sasaki, is a good friend of mine. He actually caddied for Daisuke Maruyama on the PGA TOUR when Daisuke played over here. Takahide went missing for four days. They actually found him [Wednesday] in one of the evacuation areas. But he was actually out of contact for four days. Nobody really knew where he was. 

And he’s doing all right?
I did get confirmation that he’s OK even though I have not spoken to him. He’s married and has a wife and two kids. They were all missing, and it was really scary.

Don’t you go to Japan every year, either for visits or to play in tournaments?
Yeah. I was there in January. I went back for about five days before Sony (Open in Hawaii). I usually go back in November or December. It’s always nice to spend time there, too. I love going back.

And now you’re stepping up to try to do your part to assist those affected by the earthquake.
When you think about what happened in Japan and what I can do to help, there is really not much I can do. I can’t go back there and help those people, to get them out of the water or try to rescue them. So I thought I can play the best golf I can and hopefully give them something to cheer for. This is really not the time to be watching golf in Japan, but it’s the only way I know to help. Hopefully I can make a lot of birdies and donate some money to the charity that will help those people recover.

You’re not trying to do this alone, though, which explains why you’ve enlisted the help of your fellow players, right?
That’s right. I’m going to donate $1,000 for every birdie I make this week. Hopefully I can get a lot more players to join in on the effort for the recovery in Japan. I understand that we’re definitely very fortunate that we play golf for a living, and this is our way to give back to the community, and, in this case, the world. For me, this is happening in my homeland. I hope I can make a difference.

Do you have any long-term plans or additional ideas on how you might help?
I haven’t really thought about what I can do yet, frankly. I’m just trying to do as much as I can right now. In time I think I can do a lot more than what I’m doing this week. Hopefully, that will help a little bit as people recover from what happened. There is so much terrible news going around in Japan with the tsunami, the earthquake and what’s happening at the nuclear plant. If I can do something, maybe it will lift them up a little.

The Japanese are passionate about golf and they seem to enthusiastically follow their native sons playing in the U.S. Do you feel that?
Sure, definitely. And the needle moves if a Japanese player is playing well on the PGA  TOUR. The (TV) ratings definitely go up in Japan, and that goes for any one of the players who play over here. The Japanese love to see a Japanese player do well.

As you get ready to play this week, I guess it’s safe to say your birdie opportunities will take on added emphasis.
I just hope the money gets to good hands and put to good use. Every dollar helps, which is why I’m trying to get as many players to help, too. Hopefully what we do can help a little bit in Japan. Anything I can do to help from over here, I’m going to try to do.


To donate to earthquake relief in Japan, please click here


READ MORE ABOUT: Ryuji Imada , Disaster Relief
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