Once the Bashful Prince, Ishikawa still has eyes on the throne, writes Chuah Choo Chiang

SAN FRANCISCO – OCTOBER 10: Ryo Ishikawa of Japan and the International Team walks from the 6th tee followed by Tiger Woods of the USA Team during the Day Three Afternoon Fourball Matches in The Presidents Cup at Harding Park Golf Course on October 10, 2009 in San Francisco, California (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Whether it was in America or Japan, every shot played was captured by TV crews and every post-round interview drew a massive scrum of golf writers that his agent would bring a stool for him to sit and answer every media question that would make sporting headlines back home.

This was the life of Ryo Ishikawa more than a decade ago.

Before the emergence of now eight-time PGA Tour winner Hideki Matsuyama, Ishikawa was the darling amongst fans and Japanese media who were desperate to embrace a sporting hero that would inspire a golf-mad nation.

At age 15, Ishikawa wrote a slice of golf history by becoming the youngest winner on the Japan Golf Tour in 2007 and by the time he turned 20, the boy who would earn the nickname Bashful Prince for his charm, good looks and youthful exuberance was already a nine-time winner, a world top-50 player and an International Team member at the Presidents Cup in 2009 and 2011.

Ishikawa ventured to the U.S. at his prime in search of more success and spent five seasons on the PGA Tour from between 2013 to 2017 where he competed against the likes of Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh. He notched two career-best runner-up finishes before a back injury cut short his American dreams.

While he seems to have been in the game forever, Ishikawa is still only 32 years of age, some five months older than Matsuyama, and while his swing speed may be a touch slower now, he has rebuilt his game and has won four times at home in the past four years in preparation of a final throw of the dice to make his mark on the PGA Tour.

An impressive tied fourth finish at the Zozo Championship, where Ishikawa was the highest placed local golfer in Japan’s lone PGA Tour event last week, received more coverage in some local newspapers than Collin Morikawa’s six-shot triumph, and the performance has only fueled the fire in his belly.

He did not hesitate to respond with a firm “Yes” when asked if he would accept an automatic exemption into the next FedExCup Fall event at the World Wide Technology Championship in Mexico next week. “I’m always hoping to get back on the PGA Tour,” said Ishikawa, surrounded once more by hordes of Japanese media.

“It’s been about five years since I’ve been back, but I’ve always been trying to rebuild myself so I can go back. I really feel like it’s never too late to achieve that, and I’m working hard for it. I’m happy to finish in the top 10. I’m really, really pleased about that,” added Ishikawa, whose last top 10 on the PGA Tour was in 2016.

The likeable Japanese star has now accumulated 127 non-member FedExCup points and effectively needs to finish solo second in Mexico next week to surpass the current 125th ranked player on the points standing to earn a PGA Tour card for 2024. Another top 10 in Mexico will also get him into the penultimate Fall event in Bahamas and enhance his prospects of getting back to the promise land in golf. If he fails, he is expected to compete in the Qualifying School, which is handing out Tour cards to the top 5 players and ties in the Final Stage in December.

There was more joy when Kensei Hirata, 22, and Ryo Hisatsune, 21, finished tied sixth on Sunday to make it an unprecedented three Japanese players in the top 10 at the Zozo Championship and the rising stars also accepted exemptions to tee up in Mexico. Ishikawa is excited to see his young compatriots aim for the stars. “I think there is currently a lot of momentum, especially for players in their early 20s which we didn’t see back in 2019 (first year of Zozo Championship,” said Ishikawa.

“I think (it) is a period of change and this is a great opportunity for them, and just the fact that a PGA Tour event is here in Japan and they’re in the field shows how competitive the game has become since 2019. The motivation is high.”

Note: The writer is senior director, Marketing & Communications – APAC for the PGA TOUR and is based in Malaysia. Fans can watch the PGA Tour on Eurosport.



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