Golfing star from the East is born

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By The Albatross

At the just concluded edition of Northern Trust Open, a teenage Japanese golfing sensation made his debut into the PGA Tour circuit.

Ryo Ishikawa brought into the PGA Tour something that had been missing for eight months. He brought the media back into golf in their droves.

With the announcement of his invitation, came a sudden gush of media interest in the event. The media manager of the Northern Trust Open, Toby Zwikel, said that after word went around that Ishikawa was participating, the demand for credentials went up and they had already issued 375, before the start of the event, with the expectation that they might issue as many as 400. “This is our largest ever number,” he concluded. That number should be seen against 209 media representatives when Tiger Woods last played at this event in 2006.

Ishikawa burst in to the scene about two years ago, winning the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup on the Japan Golf Tour, as an amateur on May 20, 2007. He turned professional last year and won his first professional event, the Mynavi ABC Championship last November. By the close of last year he had become the youngest ever player to reach the top 100 in the Official World Golf Rankings and had, in the process, won 100 million yen, (about US$ 1.11million); in the Japan Golf Tour, becoming the youngest player to hit both of these feats. He is currently ranked number 68 in the world.

Ishikawa is a sensation at home. His Japanese nickname is “Hanikami Ohio”, meaning the bashful prince, but he has, so far, handled his star status very well. He was a shot in the arm for the Japan Golf Tour, which was running into significant financial troubles well before the current world economic woes settled on everybody’s lips.

And therein lies the danger for this young golf prodigy. Too much may be expected of the kid too soon! He’s already facing enormous expectations and hence pressure to perform. He has coped well, under this pressure so far, but how long he can hold out is anybody’s guess. Is he a Tiger Woods in the making or another Ty Tryton, the kid on whom such high hopes were heaped and who burnt out pretty quickly under the pressure. Ishikawa was extremely grateful to the Northern Trust Open, for that is where he made his debut into the PGA Tour. His target was, “I hope I can make the cut”. He missed it by two strokes on rounds of 73 and 71 on the par 71 Riviera Country Club course. But he cherished the experience.

“I was nervous for 18 holes, from the first to the 18th,” Ishikawa said after the round, speaking in Japanese through an interpreter. “I feel like my body has been stiff all day. I think there are different kinds of nervousness, for example, nervousness about making a winning putt or nervousness to make the cut. But today’s nervousness was the first time for me to feel, so it’s hard to explain.” He concluded. The older hands in the circuit appreciated his circumstances and were favourably inclined. Hunter Mahan, a member of last year’s winning US Ryder Cup Team, said, “I probably wouldn’t know which tee to go off if I was 17 trying to play on the PGA Tour. I definitely wasn’t mentally prepared for the PGA Tour or probably wasn’t good enough, either.”

Ishikawa will play in The Masters in Augusta in April as an International Invitee of the Chairman of Augusta National and he has already declared his ambition is to beat Tiger Woods record as the youngest player at 21 to win The Masters.

And how does he intend to achieve that goal? He is having a practice facility built near his home in Tokyo, with Augusta-style bent grass on the greens and the same crystal-white sand in the bunkers.

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