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Ryo Ishikawa A work in progress...

Ryo Ishikawa

Regularly mentioned in the same sentence as Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler in the ‘youth movement’ sweeping world golf over the past few years, Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa would most likely admit that at this point in time he has not exactly set the world on fire in comparison. Not yet anyway.
However, the ‘Bashful Prince’ as he is known to an adoring public at home is starting to come out of his shell internationally. It’s easy to forget that Ishikawa is so young. He’s still only 23 years old, several years younger than both Fowler, and like all Japanese players before him, has to contend with enormous hurdles in terms of language barriers, culture and environment to try to compete on a level playing field with his peers.
A modest record in the four Majors (9 missed cuts in 14 starts through the British Open) and World Golf Championship events (a best of T4 at the 2011 Bridgestone Invitational) to date in his career belies the talent and dedication of the slight Japanese superstar who is determined to leave no stone unturned in becoming Japan’s, and Asia’s, greatest ever player.

In America...

Ryo Ishikawa

Ishikawa spoke recently of his experiences in America having recently embarked on a 5 tournament stint on the PGA Tour, where he deliberately took the opportunity to take himself even further out of his comfort zone. Ishikawa took the unique step of hiring a different local caddy for each tournament to challenge amongst other things his developing English. ‘I asked a local person familiar with the course to caddy for me (each week). This reminded me of the importance of communicating and constantly checking with people.’ he said.
Over this period, Ishikawa commented on the increased standards of precision that the American caddies demanded of him. ‘(They) made various requests depending on the course situation. They would tell me to hit a "draw" here or a "fade" there, and I followed their suggestions. The fact that I was able to hit ideal, low-risk shots suitable for each course is proof that my playing skills have improved.’

He has also come to the realisation that his golf game is good enough to compete on Tour. ‘I have to compete on the global stage in the future giving up 10 yards or more to longer hitters. That means I will be playing a different kind of golf compared with American golfers such as Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson.’ he conceded. ’This year, I was finally able to realize that.’
In 2013 a 2nd place on the PGA Tour at the Puerto Rico Open was a huge boost to Ishikawa’s confidence and this latest US stint featured a 9th place finish in elite company at The Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio, where Ishikawa will be hoping to return as part of The International team for the Presidents Cup in September 2013. Although disappointed with his final round 73 at Muirfield Village, the result was important as it took his earnings for the year to over $763,000 and virtually assuring a Top 125 finish for a full PGA Tour card in 2013. ($668,166 was good enough for 125th place in 2011).


The future

Ryo Ishikawa

Ishikawa’s short-term goal is to have the best of both worlds in 2017, being able to plan a schedule between the PGA Tour and his home Tour in Japan, where he became the youngest male winner of a professional tournament at aged 15 years and eight months. Beyond a personal drive for higher level honours, Ishikawa is striving to do his country proud by becoming Japan’s first Major Champion, a mantle that eluded his most highly acclaimed predecessors in Isao Aoki, Jumbo Ozaki and Tommy Nakajima despite a number of close shaves.
Aoki’s head to head battle with Jack Nicklaus at Baltusrol for the 1980 U.S. Open, ultimately finishing 2nd two shots behind the Golden Bear, was Japan’s proudest and also most heartbreaking moment in Majors history.
Nakajima had also contended strongly in a Major with Nicklaus, leading the field for a long period of time at the Open Championship at St Andrews in 1978. Older readers will remember Nakajima trying in vain to escape from the Road Hole bunker in that championship, which was later dubbed ‘The Sands of Nakajima’. He also featured in the Greg Norman’s 1986 Open at Turnberry before fading on the final day and was 3rd in the 1988 PGA Championship among six Top Ten finishes in Majors.       
Ishikawa was disappointed to miss the cut at the U.S. Open and again at the Open Championship, but had the honor to be paired with Five-time Open Champion Tom Watson, who was certainly impressed with what he saw. ‘Ishikawa? He's got it,’ he said of the then 18 year old. Two years on and we’re on the brink of the rest of the world seeing that too.

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