Nasa Hataoka stood on the 18th green at Pinnacle Country Club as her fellow tour players rushed the green to perform what has become a weekly tradition of showering the champion with water. The once amateur phenom from Japan had just won for the first time on the LPGA Tour at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, where she earned a commanding six stroke victory and set a new tournament scoring record.
Gathered among the players, who were celebrating Nasa’s victory, was a woman who wore the biggest smile of all. It was Hiromi Hataoka, Nasa’s mother, who hoisted a bottle of water into the air and laughed as she poured it over her daughter.
“Having her there really supported me,” Nasa said about having her mom witness her first win on the LPGA Tour.
It was a moment celebrated by a mother and her daughter, who share not only a bond in life, but a special relationship in golf. And it was a moment, just a year earlier, they wouldn’t have been able to share together.
While Nasa was growing up in Japan, Hiromi worked on the clerical staff at a local golf course. It was there that she first got the idea to introduce her 11-year-old daughter to the game. With Hiromi as her caddie, Nasa quickly found success and lived up to the high expectations that came with her name. Jinichi and Hiromi Hataoka named their daughter after the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in hopes their daughter would also shoot for the stars.
“They wanted me to accomplish something that has never been accomplished before,” Nasa explained about the origins of her name.
And Hiromi was there to help Nasa make it happen.
In 2016, Hiromi was on the bag for her daughter’s victory at the Japan Women’s Open, where Nasa accomplished what no other player had done before. A 17-year-old Nasa made history as the first amateur and the youngest to win a major championship on the Japan LPGA Tour. One month later, as the youngest player in the field, Nasa finished T4 at the LPGA Qualifying Tournament to earn her card for 2017.
But as Nasa made the transition to competing in the United States on the LPGA Tour, her mother was not factored into the plan. Hiromi remained in Japan, only able to visit her daughter in the United States three times during the 2017 season. Without her mother by her side, Nasa struggled. She missed the cut in 11 of 19 events during her rookie year.
“I would try to get used to American food, go out, eat and try to get used to life in the U.S.” Nasa said. “But it's a real struggle.”
Nasa was forced to return to the LPGA Qualifying Tournament in order to keep her card for 2018. She once again played with the promise she had shown as an amateur in Japan. She earned medalist honors and retained her Tour card. But Nasa knew she needed to make a change if she wanted to compete, and win, on the LPGA Tour. And her mother needed to be part of the plan. In 2018, Hiromi began traveling full-time on Tour with Nasa as her chef and travel companion.
“She's always with me and then eating healthy, that's probably the key to play better,” Nasa explained.
Play better she did.
With her mother by her side, Nasa had a breakout season in 2018. Nasa won for the first time on Tour in Arkansas. The following week, in living up her name, she once again tried to achieve what no one else had done.
During the final round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, Nasa began the day nine strokes back of the lead. Sunday, she soared up the leaderboard with an 8-under par, 64 to force a playoff with So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. With a win, Nasa would have pulled off the biggest come from behind victory in a women’s major championship. Instead, she settled for a runner-up finish after losing in the playoff.
But Nasa took from that victory a confidence that propelled her to the winner’s circle once again in 2018, winning in front of her family and friends at the TOTO Japan Classic. The victory was an opportunity for Nasa to prove to not only herself, but everyone back home, how far she had come with her mother’s help.
“I'm so proud. I'm so happy to win this event. Actually, I wanted to win this tournament before it began,” Nasa said after her victory. “I am happy that I won in front of Japanese fans. I wanted to show how I improved playing in U.S.”
In 2019, Hiromi remains Nasa’s companion on Tour. In March, the pair once again celebrated on the 18th green, this time at the Kia Classic, where Nasa captured her third victory on Tour. Armed with a smile and a bottle of water, Hiromi rushed on to the green to shower her daughter. It was a moment to be shared together.