Thu, Feb 19, 2009 - Page 19 News List

Wacky Japanese wants to take golf world by storm

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , LOS ANGELES

Japanese teen golf sensation Ryo Ishikawa returns to the fairway after playing from the rough before the start of the Northern Trust Open at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

PHOTO: AFP

As if his electric-yellow pants did not do the trick, Ryo Ishikawa smiled, leaned into the microphone and introduced himself to more than the room, which was packed with more paparazzi than golf reporters.

“Hello, America,” he said. “I’m Ryo.”

After a few sentences in halting English, he offered a primer on how to pronounce his name.

“Yo,” he said. “Repeat after me: Yo. Yo.”

And so it was that Ishikawa, a 17-year-old wunderkind, arrived as golf’s latest curiosity.

Ishikawa, who two years ago became the youngest player to win a Japanese tour event, signed last month with the marketing giant IMG. He has been granted exemptions to three PGA Tour events and has received an invitation to the Masters.

About 400 media members received credentials at Riviera, nearly double that for Tiger Woods’ last visit in 2006. Few golfers seemed to know much about Ishikawa, but they were curious. He seemed to relish it as he sat for the news conference. With his garish pants and his sunglasses resting atop a mop of black hair, he gave off the air of a rock star.

Ishikawa said his goal was to eventually win the Masters, that his idol was Woods, and that he did his best to focus on golf, not on all the attention.

Not that he minds.

“The best thing is I get 20 more bucks in my wallet,” he said of the fruits of celebrity.

And his colorful pants are “as important as a golf club.”

The most important piece of equipment probably lies between his ears. That is the difference between Woods and Ty Tyron, who in 2002 turned pro at age 17, and is now on the minor league Gateway Tour.

“I probably wouldn’t know which tee to go off if I was 17 trying to play on the PGA Tour,” said Hunter Mahan, who won the US Junior Amateur Championship in 1999, when he was 17. “I would probably have to call my mom and go: ‘What do I do? I want to eat. What do I do?’”

Jason Bohn knew what to do. He made a hole in one worth US$1 million while he was at the University of Alabama. To accept it, he turned pro. He was 29 when he earned his way onto the tour.

“Do you remember what you were like at that age?” asked Bohn, 35. “You’re completely fearless. The road I took — going through all the mini-tours, playing all the junk, sleeping in your car — is a little different.”

Moments after Bohn spoke from the fringe of the 18th green, Ishikawa rolled up in a golf cart and ambled into the interview area in the media tent.

“This is Barnum and Bailey,” he said. “It’s the greatest show on earth.”

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