Popular Japanese professional golfer Ryo Ishikawa, a 10-time winner on the Japanese Golf Tour before age 21 who is playing a full-time PGA TOUR schedule for the first time, has committed to compete in the 2013 Honda Classic, a PGA TOUR event which will be contested February 25-March 3 at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, FL.
Ishikawa, playing The Honda for the first time, joins a world class field that includes world No. 1 and defending champion Rory McIlroy, world No. 2 Tiger Woods, No. 5 Louis Oosthuizen, No. 6 Justin Rose, No. 8 Lee Westwood, No. 11 Charl Schwartzel, No. 12 Jason Dufner, No. 15 Keegan Bradley, No. 19 Graeme McDowell, No. 20 Peter Hanson, No. 22 Ernie Els , No. 24 Bo Van Pelt, No. 28 and former World No. 1 Martin Kaymer, No. 31 Branden Grace, No. 34 Rickie Fowler, and No. 38 Robert Garrigus.
Other notables in the field are 2011 Honda Classic champion Rory Sabbatini, 2010 champion Camilo Villegas, 2009 champion Y.E. Yang, 2007 champion Mark Wilson, Henrik Stenson, former Masters champ Trevor Immelman, Stewart Cink, Vijay Singh, Sean O'Hair, Stuart Appleby, 2003 Honda champion Justin Leonard, 1997 champion Stuart Appleby, Mike Weir, Retief Goosen and David Duval.
"We are thrilled that Ryo has chosen to play The Honda for the first time," Honda Classic Executive Director Kenneth R. Kennerly said. "This is further testament that The Honda Classic is a premier event in golf not only in this country, but throughout the world. Our field keeps getting better and better by attracting the top stars from many countries around the world, whether it's our defending champion, Rory McIlroy, from Ireland or Germany in the case of Martin Kaymer, South Korea in the case of Y.E. Yang, a former champion, or Japan with Ryo Ishikawa."
Ishikawa's early success in Japan has made him a rock star of sorts in that country, but his quest to emerge on the world stage has brought his game to America.
"You know, the PGA TOUR is the No. 1 tour in the world, and I'm very honored to be participating in this TOUR," Ishikawa said. "I believe that playing on this TOUR is more of a player development style, and that's why I like playing here."
In other words, he thinks his game will grow faster amid the competition in the States.
Ishikawa, whom the Japanese endearingly call the "hanikami oji," or shy prince for his bashful demeanor, has the complete package. He has a solid game, a flair for fashion and corporate appeal. It is not unusual for him to show up at the course in a pink polo or orange pants. His endorsement deals have reached eight figures, including a $6.8 million a year check from Callaway to play the company's clubs and wear its apparel. It's the biggest deal for any Japanese golfer in history.
In May of 2007, when Ishikawa was just 15 years and eight months old, he became the youngest golfer to win a men's tournament on the Japan Golf Tour, capturing the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup. Since then his rise to golf stardom in Japan has been swift and steady. Ishikawa turned professional in 2008 and, by the end of that season, became the youngest player to break into the top 100 of the Official World Golf Rankings. He went on to dominate the 2009 season in Japan with four victories. In September of that year, Ishikawa became the youngest golfer to ever reach the top 50 in the World Golf Rankings.
Ishikawa officially became a member of the PGA Tour in March 2012, and played 18 events last year. He made the cut in 10 tournaments, earning $727,051. His best finishes came at the Farmers Insurance Open, the Puerto Rico Open, and Jack Nicklaus' Memorial Tournament, where he finished T13, 2nd and T9, respectively. His best finish in a major came at the 2011 Masters, where he finished T20.
Although he has been relatively unsuccessful outside of Japan, Ishikawa is familiar to fans in the U.S. and elsewhere because of over-the-top media hype stemming from his homeland, as well as his appearances in 15 of 16 major tournaments since 2009. Now he is working to get his game together in 2013 after a slow start on the West Coast.
"The golf courses are more improved than Japanese courses," Ishikawa said. "The golf course shape, and distances are longer, and most players are driving longer than me. So it's a more difficult place here. But it's good for me."
Small in stature at 5 feet 9 inches and weighing just 160 pounds, Ishikawa shows surprising length off the tee. Yet he finished with a middle-of-the-pack average driving distance of just under 290 yards in 2012. He needs to improve his accuracy from tee to green to score more consistently.
What does he like most about being in America?
"The more easier I can walk in town and we can go shopping," he said. "Here, I can. It's difficult in Japan. So, it's more easier, yeah."
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