There are sporting legends in every country that seem to be bigger than life. They make people sit up and take note. Masashi “Jumbo” Ozaki is just such an athlete. While golf has long been popular in Japan, it was Ozaki who brought a new vitality to the game and his emergence spawned an unprecedented growth in the game in the country.
Only the second Japanese male to be admitted to the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum (Isao Aoki was the first), Ozaki is often thought to be to Japanese golf what Arnold Palmer is to American golf. His success has spawned an entire generation of Japanese golf professionals, both male and female.
Born on Jan. 24, 1947 in Tokushima, Japan, Ozaki was not just a star player, but an icon in Japan and at least partially responsible for the success of the Japan Golf Tour Organization. Every sport needs its heroes in order to grow and Ozaki was just what golf needed to become mainstream in Japan.
"The emergence of players like Ryo Ishikawa force me to keep my game sharp.”
He compiled an incredible record playing in his home country with a record 94 wins on the JGTO. Among his most prominent victories were six Japan PGA Championships and five Japan Open titles. He also led the Japan Golf Tour in earnings a record 12 times, including five years in a row from 1994-98. To many, he was the Japan Golf Tour.
He took home his first title in 1973 and won on the JGTO as late as 2002 at the age of 55, three years older than the PGA TOUR record of 52 set by Sam Snead.
A long hitter, Ozaki won more than 110 tournaments in his career, but perhaps didn’t receive his due credit worldwide since he played the vast majority of his golf in his native land. Nearly all of his victories came in Japan, but he did add a prominent title in winning the New Zealand PGA Championship.
He played successfully long past the age of most players and was still ranked among the top 10 golfers in the world into his 50s. He spent nearly 200 weeks ranked among the top 10 on the Official World Golf Rankings.
Jumbo Ozaki had three singles reach the Japanese pop charts in the late 1980’s.
He wasn’t just a golfer, though. A star high school baseball player in a country that reveres the game, Ozaki was first a professional baseball player. After his brilliant high school career that saw him lead his team to the national championship, he spent three years pitching professionally before turning to golf at age 23.
Almost bigger than life in Japan, Ozaki didn’t limit himself to success on playing fields. In addition to his athletic accomplishments, he even had three singles reach the pop charts in Japan in the late 80s, singing and playing guitar.
He favored colorful clothes and was always the premier attraction on the JGTO, drawing the biggest crowds for his aggressive style of play and his charisma.
Ozaki was not just a collector of tournament titles. He’s been known to collect classic cars and vintage wines, as well as musical instruments. He’s a man who enjoys the finer things in life, something he can well afford as the leading money winner in the history of the JGTO.
He didn’t play frequently outside of Japan, but he impressed in his appearances at major championships, recording top-10 finishes at the U.S. Open, Open Championship and the Masters.
When he did venture outside of Japan to play, Ozaki usually rented a house and brought a sushi chef with him so that he and his entourage would feel more at home outside of their homeland.
He is part of an extraordinarily successful golf family, as younger brothers Naomichi (Joe) and Tateo (Jet) are both among the JGTO’s top 20 all-time money winners. Joe Ozaki also played on the Champions Tour in the United States.
While now in his 60s, Ozaki still competes in his native land