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Ryo Ishikawa - The Future of Japanese Golf

From Dermot Gilleece at Northern Trust Open, Riviera CC

Posted Feb 18, 2009 by Dermot Gilleece

Ryo Ishikawa

He sat at the top of the interview area and surveyed the scene, shades pushed up on his shock of black hair.  "Hello America," he said, more to the battery of television cameras, one imagined, than to the assembled media. "I am Ryo Ishikawa from Japan."

                 It seemed well-rehearsed, just as Tiger Woods had been well tutored with his "Hello World" salutation on his PGA Tour debut as a 20-year-old at Milwaukee in August 1996. Interestingly, Ishikawa has said of the Great One: "Tiger Woods is the player that inspires me the most." 

                 The 17-year-old had been closely observed by a significantly increased Japanese media presence since his arrival here at Riviera CC on Monday morning.  Their number was increased to 100 from the normal 20 at the Northern Trust Open, causing the organisers to extend the media tent by 40 feet.  Now it was the turn of a broader sweep of golf scribes to see him at close quarters.

                 It was an interesting sight.  He wore a white polo shirt over a long-sleeved yellow sweatshirt.  And hidden from view, behind the interview table, was his waterproof yellow trousers.  Bottoming-off the ensemble, you might say, were a pair of golf shoes, white with yellow stripes.

                 This is the youngster who is being touted as a potential rival for Woods.  The most modest expectation of him is that he will gain a long-awaited Japanese breakthrough in the major championships.  Remarkably this failed to materialise during an expectant 52 years since the country captured the World Cup in Tokyo in 1957.         

                 Padraig Harrington, Ireland's winner of three major titles out of the last six, believes he can pinpoint the reason for this dearth.  "For a start, I don't think it has anything to do with the quality of their game," he said today.  "It's the distinctly different lifestyle over here (in the US).  To compete successfully in the American major championships, you've got to become comfortable with that."

                 Harrington went on: "What often happens is that when a guy, a European, turns up at an event in the States for the first time, he can get swamped meeting people like manufacturers, changing things and moving around. Whereas someone who is already over here - and this is why I come two weeks early to a major - can get all of this out of the way.

                 "I am not meeting new faces for the first time the week of the tournament and having 10 to 15-minute conversations with them.  Bear in mind that while there's a culture change for Europeans coming here, it's a massive change for an oriental.

                 "Japan has always had good players.  Their chances of ultimate success, however, depends where they play.  The environment and the distractions. It all plays a part."

                 And what of Ryo?  "I met him at the Dunlop Phoenix two years ago but I haven't had the chance of seeing him recently," the Irishman replied.  "What do I think of him?  It looks like he enjoys the game.  That's good."

                 Meanwhile, as part of the introductory process, the world's wealthiest teenager exhorted the assembled media in stilted English to repeat after him: "Ryo Ishikawa."  Getting the pronunciation of his name correctly, was clearly seen as an important start.

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