Ryo Ishikawa is making his second trip to Royal Melbourne, with fond memories of the course from the 2011 Presidents Cup and as part of a strong Asian contingent for this week’s World Cup of Golf.
Equally strong are Ishikawa’s recollections as a 10-year-old of watching on TV his first World Cup at Gotemba City, Japan, in 2001 when Ernie Els and Retief Goosen won for South Africa over a field that included Tiger Woods.
“I was very excited and, yes, this is definitely a dream come true that I will now play for my country,” Ishikawa said yesterday through a translator. “I know this course from the Presidents Cup. I realize it’s tough, but I don’t feel any pressure.”
Ishikawa and his partner, Hideto Tanihara, are coming into the World Cup in strong form, with Tanihara beating Ishikawa for his 10th Japan Tour title with a victory on Sunday at the Taiheiyo Masters. Ishikawa finished one stroke behind and tied for second.
China is also fielding an in-form team, with Liang Wenchong winning the Asian Tour event in Manila. Liang won the Manila Masters in a playoff and donated half of his US$135,000 first-place prize money to aid people caught in the Philippines’ typhoon disaster.
“I was really affected by what I saw of the damage and victims suffering from the aftermath of the typhoon ... I decided to donate 50 percent of my winnings to do my part and support the relief efforts,” Liang said.
He is to team with Wu Ashun to represent China, one of 26 teams and eight individuals in the 60-man field for the World Cup, which begins tomorrow.
K.J. Choi and this year’s US PGA Tour HP Byron Nelson Championship winner, Bae Sang-moon, are to play for South Korea, while Thailand will be represented by Asia No. 1 Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Prayad Marksaeng.
Angelo Que and Tony Lascuna are to play for the Philippines and Anirban Lahiri and Gaganjeet Bhullar for India.
Choi was asked about the format change from four-ball and foursomes in the past and a team competition only to a stroke-play individual event that mirrors what will be played at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, when golf return to the program.
Critics say the new format waters down the original aim of the World Cup as major team event.
“I won’t say yes or no, I know it is a sensitive issue,” a diplomatic and smiling Choi said.
Choi, playing in his fourth World Cup, refers to Australia as his second home. He was a popular member of the International team at the 2011 Presidents Cup, has an Australian coach and physiotherapist and has spent extended periods training there over the past 15 years.
Bhullar played in last week’s Australian Masters, also at Royal Melbourne, and had a top-10 finish. His parents are flying out from India to watch him represent his country for the first time.
“I played really good here last week,” Bhullar said. “I was feeling high on confidence and I’m sure that confidence will help me.”
“We went for qualifying a few years ago and we just missed it. It’s a great sense of achievement for team India. Anirban and I have grown up together in the amateur ranks and we represented India in quite a few international events, so it’s good to be here together,” he added.
Lahiri also played at Royal Melbourne last week, but missed the cut after having difficulty on the speedy greens.
“It’s probably the quickest greens that I’ve ever played on,” Lahiri said. “You could be five or 10 feet away and have no chance of making a two-putt unless it goes in.”
Playing among the eight individuals is scheduled to be Siddikur Rahman, marking Bangladesh’s first player in the World Cup. He won the 2010 Brunei Open and has finished in the top 20 on the Asian Order of Merit the past three seasons.
“It will be an historic moment for our country,” Siddikur said. “I’ve played in the qualifiers before, but have never made it into the event proper, so this is just great.”
“Golf is getting more popular and people do recognize me along the streets back home. I feel proud to be the flag-bearer for golf in my country,” he added.
Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Lin Wen-tang has withdrawn from the World Cup with a left wrist injury.
Asian Tour officials said yesterday that Lin injured his wrist while playing last weekend at the Manila Masters. He had only received his visa to travel to Australia on Friday last week with some fast-track assistance from the manager at the Manila course, who is Australian.
Lin will be replaced by Oscar Fraustro of Mexico, who will be one of 10 players, including Vijay Singh, competing only in the individual stroke play portion of the World Cup.