Former MLB All-Star Hasegawa Keeps Good Humor
August 15, 2017 | PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif.
By Michael Trostel, USGA
As a relief pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels, Shigetoshi Hasegawa made a career of making Major League Baseball players swing and miss. Fifty miles to the north, none of his 311 fellow competitors at the 117th U.S. Amateur Championship whiffed on Monday – though some hit a few “foul balls.” But the 49-year-old came away impressed by the immense talent of the deepest field in amateur golf.
“I thought hitting it straight would be enough,” said Hasegawa, “but to compete with the best you need to be 290 [yards] and have an incredible short game. These guys are really good.”
Hasegawa started to play the game when he was 22 years old and a starting pitcher with the Orix BlueWave in Japan. In 1997, he became the fourth Japanese player to appear in the Major Leagues, signing with the Angels. Over nine seasons with the Angels and the Seattle Mariners, he went 45-44 with a 3.71 ERA in 517 career games while earning an All-Star berth in 2003, when he earned 16 of his 33 career saves.
He continued to play on off days, but made sure to clear it with his bosses first.
“The coaches said [playing golf] is better than drinking late at night,” said Hasegawa, “so I got up early and played nine holes a lot of the mornings.”
Though he brought his clubs on most road trips, Hasegawa didn’t take the game seriously until his retirement after the 2005 season. Soon, he was playing six days a week and now sports a Handicap Index of +1.4.
On July 24, Hasegawa qualified for the U.S. Amateur by shooting 2-under 140 at his home course, Mission Viejo (Calif.) Country Club. On Monday, he played his first round in a USGA championship.
While he kept big numbers off his scorecard, Hasegawa admittedly did not have his best fastball on Monday, carding an 81 at The Riviera Country Club that included 11 bogeys and seven pars. He joked that if Angels manager Mike Scioscia were at the course, he might have made a call to the bullpen.
It was not the start that Hasegawa envisioned, but he embraced the experience with a sense of humor and a determination to play hard to the end.
“There is no pitching change for golf, right?” joked Hasegawa. “I had so much fun. It was tough, but I didn’t give up today, and that I’m very proud of.”
While Hasegawa is still refining his game to play against the world’s best amateurs, the mental toughness required to pitch has made him a better golfer, he said, because it taught him to have a short memory and stay focused on the moment. One pitch at a time; one shot at a time.
“I was a starter in Japan and I think it’s the same kind of mentality,” said Hasegawa. “You give up a few runs and you still have to keep your team in the game and pitch the next inning. In golf, if you make a triple bogey, you still have to play the next hole and try to salvage the round.”
At 5 feet 11 and 170 pounds, Hasegawa wasn’t the hardest-throwing pitcher on the field, nor is he the longest hitter on the course. But he learned that precision – both in pitching to opposing batters and pitching to a tucked hole location – was paramount to success in both games.
Hasegawa is one of the oldest players in the field this week. In fact, if you combined the ages of his fellow competitors – Alex Green, 20, and Kyle Flexsenhar, 19 – they would still be a decade younger than Hasegawa. While it seems unlikely that Hasegawa will be able to rally to make the match-play portion of this championship, he hopes that a career of protecting one-run leads in the late innings has conditioned him to play more competitive golf in the future.
Hasegawa joins a list of athletes from other sports who have played in a USGA championship, most notably former New York Islanders goaltender Mike Dunham, baseball pitcher Erik Hanson and San Francisco 49ers quarterback John Brodie.
Now he needs a perfect game on Tuesday to keep his championship hopes alive.
Michael Trostel is the senior content producer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.