Outsider Inside the Ropes

Photographer Kohjiro Kinno captures the game from a different perspective

Yes, he played the game through high school. Yes, he was even a member of the junior varsity golf team. But Sports Illustrated photographer Kohjiro “Kojo” Kinno doesn’t play golf. Doesn’t touch the stuff. 

“That shit’s expensive!” he says with a laugh. “It goes back to college: I had no money and was super focused on photography at that point, so all my money went into cameras and film. I’ve only played two or three times since.” 

In golf’s stead, Kinno spends his downtime surfing up and down the Southern California coastline. His on-course time is now spent almost exclusively at major championships and Ryder Cup events. 

“I was a skateboarder in high school,” recalls Kinno of his entry into photography. “There was no internet, so I grew up reading TransWorld Skateboarding and Thrasher and right away I knew I wanted to be a magazine guy; I wanted to be a photographer. I had tunnel vision.” 

Kinno’s entry into photography is a familiar one in action sports, where creativity and ingenuity are requisite and photographers are as much a part of the action as the athletes. It’s a fertile space for young photographers, but not one that guarantees mainstream success. Kinno’s rerouting into golf photography came unexpectedly when he was called on to assist Sports Illustrated photographer Robert Beck at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. 

“I didn’t know a thing about him when I hired him,” recalls Beck, who became a de facto mentor to Kinno. “He was the hired hand for the weekend. He hung out helping for years assisting me and a few others at SI.” 

After nearly eight years of on-the-job-training, the magazine threw Kinno a bone. He took advantage of the situation and made a go of it. Today he is a staple of the magazine’s golf photography (along with his gig as The Golfer’s Journal photo editor), trusted to capture the game’s biggest moments in his own way.

“He has an aversion to other human beings, so he tends to shoot from off the beaten path,” says Beck. “That creates angles and visions that are at odds with the norm. His stuff is different and unusual…as is the man himself.” 

Miriam Marseu, SI’s golf photo editor, agrees: “He can frame the space in front of him like no other, using negative space dramatically and poetically. He is great on a team because he takes more chances to get us something different and he is great when he shoots an event alone because he knows when he needs to be at key moments and holes.”

Let the the following images be entered into evidence.

Brendon Thomas