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Published: Friday, 7/11/2008

Japan focused on Ueda

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Momoko Ueda is relatively unknown in the U.S., but not in her home country. She is the only Japanese player at the Farr. Momoko Ueda is relatively unknown in the U.S., but not in her home country. She is the only Japanese player at the Farr.
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Take a guess which golfer attracted the largest media gathering on day one of the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic.

Your choices are:

A) Five-time tournament champion Se Ri Pak.

B) Paula Creamer, who fired a 60 to break Pak's course record.

C) Popular Natalie Gulbis.

Before you make a selection, allow us to give you one more choice.

D) Momoko Ueda.

Ding. Ding. Ding.

Although just a rookie, Ueda (pronounced Oo-eh-da) may be the biggest star in the field. Of course on a domestic scale, she doesn't move the radar - at least not as much as Creamer or Gulbis. But golf exists outside of the United States, and in Japan, Ueda has rock star status.

About eight Japanese media members convened here yesterday, and unlike local reporters who mainly stayed indoors, the Asian contingent followed the 22-year-old from hole to hole, some even documenting her every shot.

Ueda is the only Japanese player in the field. Ai Miyazato did not make the trip.

"The Japanese players are proud that they are from Japan, and they know that we're all here because of them," said Kimu Higgins, the chief producer of Jupiter Golf Network. "They're happy to talk to us to get the news back to Japan because they have family and friends in Japan as well."

Higgins is part of a five-person crew that tails Ueda on the course, sending three or four updates per day. For a smaller tournament such as the Farr, Higgins' group is responsible for conducting interviews while another team stationed in Japan offers play by play and commentary over the ESPN feed. But for majors, the whole team is on hand.

"It's quite a lot of money that Japan spends to follow their golfers around America," Higgins said, adding that women's golf in Japan is more popular than men's.

Like most of her cohorts, Higgins lives in the U.S. - New Mexico - but was once a citizen of Japan. Knowing both languages is conducive to a hectic operation.

"It's easier because we speak English and we know how things run in the United States," Higgins said. "We can control things from this side, and [studio workers] can control the rest."

Ueda enjoys the attention.

"It really motivates my play and since there's a time difference, I really appreciate all of the fans who are watching me play," said Ueda, through a translator, following her round of 3-under 68.

Megumi Okura, of Los Angeles, is in her first year covering the tour for the Kyodo News, a conglomerate similar to the Associated Press or Reuters. Not only did Okura walk all 18 holes yesterday, she also charted all of Ueda's shots and filed a report. Again, this was done for just one player.

"She and Miyazato are big stars," Okura said. "I'm sure they get more media coverage when they're in Japan, but they're

really, really big."

Contact Ryan Autullo at:

rautullo@theblade.com.



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