This featured appears on the JAPAN Forward website.

By Ed Odeven

Forty years ago, legendary Miami Herald sports columnist Edwin Pope devoted one of his columns to introduce golfer Isao Aoki to a broader audience.

Pope’s syndicated column was published in newspapers around the United States several days after Aoki finished runner-up to golf great Jack Nicklaus in the 1980 U.S. Open at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey. The 80th U.S. Open was held from June 12-15.

Nicklaus placed first with an 8-under 272, earning $55,000 for his work en route to a U.S. Open record. He shot rounds of 63, 71, 70 and 68 in succession. The Golden Bear became a four-time champion of the marquee event, joining Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Willie Anderson as the only men to do so.

Aoki, then 37, carded a 6-under 274. He collected $29,500. He shot three consecutive rounds of 68, then finished with a 70 in the final round.

“I kept telling myself no matter how perfect he is, he will make a mistake in 72 holes in four days,” Aoki reflected. “But I was wrong. Jack did not make any errors until the end of the tournament.”

Talking to reporters days later, Aoki said: “It has been a very good lesson. “I learned a lot for my future play.”

It was Aoki’s best-ever finish in a major championship.

And it was a reminder that he was a golfer to keep an eye on for years to come.

A Distinguished Career

The 1980 U.S. Open provided a big showcase for Aoki’s talents and hinted at many more big things still to come on the golf course.

In 2004, the Abiko, Chiba Prefecture, native was the first Japanese man inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Greg Norman introduced Aoki at the special ceremony. (Watch the induction ceremony here.)

His biography on the World Golf Hall of Fame website includes poignant remarks from fellow Hall of Famers Chi Chi Rodriguez and Jack Nicklaus about his exceptional putting skills.

“I’ve never seen a putting stroke like his in my life,” Rodriguez declared, calling him “the king of the jabbers.”

Said Nicklaus: “What a touch. What a putter.”

Read the full story, including Pope’s keen insights, here: