Second coming of the Japanese at Singapore Open?
All eyes are on the likes of Ikeda and Tanihara to see if they can end their country's 40-year title drought
Japanese golf used to be all the rage in Singapore in the early 1970s.
During that period, when the annual Singapore Open came around, local golf fans waited with bated breath to welcome the Japanese invasion in the infant days of the Japan Tour.
It was a period when Isao Aoki and Masashi "Jumbo" Ozaki - and later Tsuneyuki "Tommy" Nakajima - took the sporting world by storm.
The 2017 SMBC Singapore Open, which starts next Thursday, has a Japanese sponsor in Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation.
Can we expect a second coming of the Japanese invasion that the Republic saw in the 70s?
Singapore is hopeful because the event is part of the Japan Tour.
Yuta Ikeda and Hideto Tanihara have confirmed their participation and organisers say more of their countrymen are expected to announce their arrivals in the next few days.
With Ikeda (last year's top money-winner on the Japan Tour) who is ranked 34th in the world, and Tanihara, another big name with a world ranking of 55, in the field, we could see a Japanese breakthrough after 40 years.
Aoki, 74, swayed the golfing world with his sensational nine-under 63 - one of only nine players to do so - at the 1980 British Open. In the same year, he produced his best-ever Major showing when he finished runner-up by two shots to the legendary Jack Nicklaus at the 1980 US Open.
Ozaki, 69, gave as good as he received in their personal showdowns for almost two decades from the 70s.
He earned the nickname "Jumbo" for his height (1.81 metres) and length off the tee (275 metres, in the days when golf equipment was not so high-tech).
He is considered the greatest Japanese golfer for being in the world's top 10 from 1989 to 1998 for almost 200 weeks. He also holds the all-time record of most wins on the Japan Tour with 94 victories.
And just when you thought the two golfers were fading, Nakajima stepped in to carry the Japanese flag. Now 62, he once held a world ranking of No. 5, and his best Major finish was third in the 1988 US PGA Championships.
HIGHLY RATED SERIES
Aoki, Ozaki and Nakajima were all schooled in the Japan Tour, a highly rated, professionally run series which also attracted top players from South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan and Australia.
Combined, they won a total of 193 events on the Tour, Aoki with 51 and Nakajima with 48.
The Tour, founded in 1973, has the third-highest annual prize fund, behind the US PGA Tour and European Tour, and last year's top money-winner, Ikeda, won almost 208 million yen (S$2.6m) in one season.
That golden period for the Land of The Rising Sun saw the Japanese sweep five Singapore Open crowns between 1969 and 1976 at the Singapore Island Country Club's Bukit course, of which I witnessed the last three.
Tomio Kamada started the run in 1969, followed by Haruo Yasuda (1971), Takaaki Kono (1972), Yutaka Suzuki (1975) and Kesahiko Uchida (1976).
But it has been 40 years since a Japanese won the historic Singapore Open, which was inaugurated in 1961.
After Uchida's win in the 1976 event, for which he earned $16,000 - handsome reward those days - the top Japanese golfers stayed away from the Singapore Open.
The lucrative Japan Tour was to blame, as it provided at least 30 events that put the Japanese in "comfort zone" without looking east, west or south for a living.
Singapore-based Myanmarese Zaw Moe, 49, who used to play regularly on the Japan Tour for 13 years from the 1990s, explained: "Many top players are attracted to the Japan Tour, where the money is good. If I were Japanese I won't play outside the Tour for there are many events within one country.
"Those who cannot make it big can play in their development Tour, the Japan Challenge Tour, which is a great feeder event."
Singapore Professional Golfers Association president M Murugiah, 52, who this month just missed out on qualifying for the Japan Senior Tour, said: "Even for us veterans, Japan provides worthwhile tournaments. But the competition is tough as there are many good golfers there.
"Even by just making cuts in their tournaments there, you can make a decent living. The only problem for us Singaporeans is the weather, when it is cold."
Singapore fans are bracing themselves for a fine Japanese showing next week.
It would be good for the Singapore Open and its Japanese sponsor if either Ikeda or Tanihara wins at Sentosa's Serapong course.
The veteran columnist covered the Singapore Open from 1972.