Ryo Ishikawa was 9 when he first watched the Masters on TV from his home in the Tokyo suburbs. It turned out to be historic on a couple of fronts.
“I remember it well,” Ishikawa wrote in an e-mail. “I watched Toshi Izawa playing in the 2001 Masters. He shot a 67 on Sunday and tied for fourth place, which was the best-ever finish by a Japanese player in the Masters. So it was very exciting in Japan.”
It also was exciting at Augusta National, for that was the year Tiger Woods won the Masters to complete a 294-day sweep of the four major championships. No doubt, the 17-year-old Ishikawa remembers him, too.
“Tiger Woods is the player that inspires me the most,” he said before leaving Japan for Los Angeles, where he will make his PGA Tour debut this week at Riviera in the Northern Trust Open. “There are many players from Japan and other places that I look up to, but to me, Tiger Woods is the best.”
Ishikawa said when he turned pro at 16 that his dream was to be the youngest Masters champion. He will get his first chance in April.
Whether he becomes the next Tiger, or even Japan’s version of him, remains to be seen. In the two American Junior Golf Association tournaments Ishikawa played as a 14-year-old, he finished 43rd at Grayhawk and missed the cut at Bay Hill. Still, he already gets the kind of paparazzi that usually accompanies the world’s No. 1 player.
“Ryo Ishikawa attracts 'Tiger-like’ attention in Asia, and it will be fun for a U.S. audience to see him for the first time at the Northern Trust Open,” tournament director Tom Pulchinski said.
Ishikawa earned such fame when he was 15 and won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup on the Japan Golf Tour. That made him the youngest winner on a tour recognized by the Official World Golf Ranking.
Ishikawa idolizes Woods, but his first hero was Jumbo Ozaki, who won more than 100 times around the world, never in America.
“He is a legend in Japan,” Ishikawa said. “He is one of the main reasons why golf is so popular in Japan today.”
Ishikawa is merely carrying the torch, but given the attention on him, he might be able to turn the flicker into a flame.