Golfer stays in swing as she battles debilitating allergies

Saki Okamura wears a surgical mask as she plays a round on April 12 at the Studio Alice Ladies Open.

The sight of people wearing surgical masks during the hay fever season is not uncommon in Japan. But it is rare to see a professional golfer wear one during a tournament.

For Saki Okamura, a daily battle with food-based allergies presents as big a challenge as sinking a long putt with a title on the line. The 22-year-old is hoping to make a breakthrough in the sport as she tries to overcome a condition that continually saps her strength.

The Tokushima Prefecture native made her mark as a junior player both domestically and overseas, then made her pro debut in 2012 upon graduating from Kochi Chuo High School. Although she still had not yet qualified for automatic entry into Japan LPGA events, she placed seventh in the 2013 Stanley Ladies Tournament.

Since her high school days, however, Okamura had been plagued by poor health for unknown reasons. It finally came to light last year that she suffers from a delayed type of food allergy, in which reactions can occur anywhere from hours to days after ingesting certain foods.

In addition to eggs and dairy products, she suffers a reaction to brewer's yeast, which is contained in many seasonings. For that reason, she must prepare her own meals while traveling for tournaments.

Prior to this season, Okamura placed priority on addressing her medical condition, including undergoing laser treatments, so she was only able to play about five practice rounds over about three months.

The condition weakens her immune system, forcing her to wear a surgical mask when she plays during the hay fever season. "Physically, one round is all I can take," she said.

Such is her condition that she loses weight during the course of every tournament. Yet a smile never leaves her face.

At the Studio Alice Ladies Open, cosponsored by The Yomiuri Shimbun and held April 10-12 at the Hanayashiki Golf Club in Hyogo Prefecture, Okamura grabbed the spotlight when she shot the day's low score of 67 in the second round to finish the day in second place.

Although she was unable to maintain that form and ended up finishing in 15th at 2 over, she said with a smile, "I'm relieved that I could play as usual."

"When I think about people suffering from all types of illnesses, I don't consider myself as being among the sick," she added.

It's the attitude she needs to confront her hardship while aiming for a first tour title.