Getting to Know... Kengo Aoshima
The fifth installment of "Getting to Know…" features men's golfer Kengo Aoshima, who comes to UCLA after spending 2 1/2 years at Wake Forest. A member of the victorious International squad at the 2019 Arnold Palmer Cup, Aoshima talks about his frequent travels at a young age, how he came to love golf and his decision to transfer to UCLA.
Q: Moving a lot from place to place growing up, what prompted needing to relocate so often and how were you able to stick with golf throughout all the moving?
A: I was born in Japan, moved to Hawai'i when I was two years old and moved to San Jose, Calif. when I was six. The first couple of moves were because of my dad wanting to study more English. We moved back to Japan when I was 10 because of some family issues, but then the big earthquake hit in 2011 and it forced me to move back to Hawaii since everything was very unsettled and uncertain. Competitive golf for me started when I was six in San Jose. I moved to a lot of places, but these big golf tournaments were always an opportunity for me to meet friends that I had made from everywhere that I had lived. So it was a win-win. I got to play a sport that I love and I get to see everyone that I like. For example, (new teammates) Devon Bling and Eddy Lai, I grew up playing with them since we were six years old. We have pictures from back then. So just memories like that are ones that I'm very fond of and will never forget. Golf was something that allowed me to make friends, but also I love the competitive side of it, and that's probably why I stuck with it for so long.
Q: I know you moved back to Hawai'i after the 2011 earthquake in Japan. Can you walk me through what it was like enduring something that had such a devastating impact on your native country and maybe how that has helped you overcome adversity throughout your career?
A: The scary part was that the earthquake was so big that I thought it had originated in Tokyo, but then I got the news that it was actually a couple hundred miles away and I realized it must have been massive. Obviously, I couldn't golf for a while, couldn't go to school, couldn't see some family just because transportation was very limited, and the power plant went nuts so we didn't even know if living in Tokyo was going to be safe. So I actually evacuated to the western side of Japan, which was a little bit further away from the power plant that was malfunctioning. I definitely wasn't ready for that. I wasn't ready to live without my dad since it was just me and my mom that evacuated. It forced me to mature very quickly, just because my mom and I had to do some things that my dad used to do. With that kind of tragedy, you never hope for it, but I was able to capitalize on the situation and to make myself a better person and better individual. It definitely helped me when I got to college because I didn't have any issues of getting used to dorm life or living on my own. I thought I was very independent and mature compared to everyone around me.
Q: You've also lived in San Jose, where you started playing golf competitively. What got you into golf at such a young age?
A: So my very first tournament was through a family friend. She told me that there was a tournament in San Diego called the Callaway Junior World Golf Championships. I had never played a tournament before that. But since it's six years old and below, all you had to do is kind of fill out a sheet and just say you want to play and you get to play. So I played that first event and just kind of fell in love. It was a lot of fun because I loved the strategy side of it. I loved how there were good parts and bad parts to the round. Making birdies felt good. I've always loved being at a golf course. And I've always felt that I'm a pretty competitive person. Maybe I don't show it as much as other guys do, as other athletes do, just because I'm a golfer and we kind of keep it within ourselves. But it was a good balance of playing the sport that I love, being out in nature which I love, and having to do it in a competitive setting. These three things kind of mashed up nicely and I just kind of got addicted to it.
Q: Completing your high school career in Hawai'i, what was it like winning the high school state championship in 2017?
A: It definitely was one of my best memories in high school. We had a really small team, but everyone just played phenomenally at the right time. To be honest with you, I didn't play great, but everyone else played out of their minds and coming down the stretch, we had a pretty nice cushion. It was fitting just because that was my senior year. My high school hadn't won a state championship during my time there. So I felt that for everything that my high school did for me, I definitely wanted to win a title for them.
Q: After redshirting your freshman year at Wake Forest, what was it like to see all your hard work pay off when you made the Arnold Palmer Cup international team? And what was competing at the Cup like?
A: When I got to Wake Forest, I was by far the worst guy on the team, and it was pretty obvious that I needed to redshirt. The one thing that I really focused on was being number one. What I mean by that is, for example, when we go to workouts, if our strength coach says we're doing five sets of squats, then I'll try to do one extra rep for every set. Or if a coach gives us a drill to make 20 consecutive four footers, then I'll try to make 21. Just that kind of thing. So the number one in everything that I did – just that extra mile that I went – really paid off when the time came around when I actually got to compete. When my redshirt year was done, I felt very prepared just because I had that full year of practice under my belt. I knew I outworked everyone, and if I outwork everyone, there is no reason I can't outperform everyone. And that was one of the first times in my life where I truly believed in that.
For the Palmer Cup, the week itself was absolutely amazing. I made a lot of good friends there and the hospitality that I received there was absolutely amazing. Since I went to Wake Forest and the tournament is named after a Wake Forest guy, it felt fitting that I was playing.
Q: When you were looking to transfer, what was that process like and what was it about UCLA's program that drew you to become a Bruin?
A: When I was being recruited out of high school, I had very limited options. I didn't have many offers. I kind of had to pick from out of a few, but after the successful season that I had, I had a lot of options. I ended up getting phone calls from hundreds of coaches and it felt really nice. But I always felt that UCLA was the right fit for me. Maybe in high school I wasn't good enough or didn't work hard enough in school, but I always thought that I wanted to live in L.A. I love what UCLA stands for. I love the golf program. The facilities that the UCLA men's golf program gets to play on is absolutely crazy. We get to play at the world's best golf courses, and I think we almost sometimes take that for granted. And Coach (Derek) Freeman has had players come through like Patrick Cantlay or Kevin Chappell. Those were guys that were the number one player in college golf. So to be developed under a coach like him would be really nice. There were other schools that were interested in me, but I told Coach Freeman the first day I was in the portal that if he gives me an offer, it's kind of a done deal. So I'm glad he was able to finalize stuff and I'm glad I'm here.
Q: Following the Pac-12's decision in canceling the fall 2020 season, what's your mindset heading into the school year, especially given you already had to sit out last year?
A: I'm almost used to it, right? To be completely honest with you, golf is a sport where you can develop a lot when you're not playing in events. Yeah, you need to play in competition to develop, but there are certain things that you can only work on without competition. And I think any golfer could use that. So for me, I just really need to think about which facets of my game I need to work on, and academics, too. If we don't have as many athletic obligations as we used to have when we were on campus, maybe I can squeeze in a couple extra credits throughout the quarter. So just trying to take advantage of the now. And hopefully the season comes back around in the spring and we'll be ready to go win a Pac-12 Championship by then.
Q: You mention "the now." What have you been up to, where are you, and when do you plan on getting situated back in Westwood?
A: Right now I'm in Japan, and I don't have any school and I'm not taking any summer classes. So just trying to golf as much as I can and trying to develop my game as much as I can. I really thought about going back to UCLA, but just with the rules, it didn't really quite make sense to us as a team just because our sport requires us to move off campus and practice off campus. It's not basketball where you can just have a court and that's it. Golf is a unique sport. But I hope to be back in January, just because there are some things that I want to work on with Coach Freeman. There are only four years that you get to experience college, so I hope we can spend as much time as we can on campus, just because when you get old, you can't go back.
Q: You bring in a lot of veteran experience to this Bruin roster. How do you see yourself fitting in the lineup at UCLA?
A: I have a unique background where I can now see how two different programs operate. I saw one at Wake Forest, and when I was there we had great success. I think I had a role to play in that, so I kind of see how we succeeded at Wake and I kind of see how I can bring in that side of it to help what UCLA has to offer. If I see some things that we could do better at UCLA, I want to bring that input in. From as far as the golf side, I think we have a really young roster with really good freshmen and sophomores. They're super talented. So if I can help them on the golf course, or even just off the course. Golf is a sport where everything in your life has to be in line – your social life, your academics have to be in line for you to really feel comfortable on the course and just isolate your brain just to golf. I personally think I do a pretty good job of that, which comes back to my redshirt year. I didn't have the stress of having to compete and adjusting to college life. So I thought I adjusted to college life really well. I could share some advice on that to underclassmen, and hopefully that helps them out. But at the end of the day, I just have to take care of my game and when my name is called, hopefully I'm ready to play.
Q: What are you studying at UCLA and what are your career goals or plans post-golf?
A: I am a Sociology major. As far as my career goals, I haven't really decided within the two paths, but one path is obviously professional golf. Hopefully it works out. But it's not a path for everyone. The odds are against you. Only a couple of college golfers from each class make it through to the big leagues. So with the way I think I see the numbers, and I think realistically, I'm not really a guy that can be like, that's my dream and I'm going to go all in on it. So if that doesn't work out, I'm thinking about going to law school, which is why I went into sociology, just because I thought that sociology exposes you to many different kinds of people, and if I went to law school, I feel like that would help me greatly.
|Favorite non-golf activity?||Working out|
|Favorite movie ever?||American Sniper|
|Dream place to live?||Los Angeles|
|Favorite musical artist?||Kanye West|
|Athletes he most admires?||Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant|
|Most excited to do when getting to L.A.?||Go to Universal Studios|
|Go-to post-round food?||Bacon cheeseburger with avocado|
|Why UCLA?||Best combination of athletics and academics|