Tag Archives: Ryo Ishikawa

Ishikawa’s Masters Invite Questioned by Ishikawa

“We have no snow in Tokyo,” writes Duke Ishikawa, our chief Asian correspondent. “But temperature is pretty low every day.”

Thanks, Duke. Keep us posted.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are kicking off their seasons with highly-compensated appearances at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Phil Mickelson’s debut comes at the Humana Challenge in La Quinta, Calif.

Ryo Ishikawa is also playing in the Humana, so Duke (no relation to Ryo) attached “a question for all my friends around the world” to his Tokyo weather report:

 A Japanese of 21 years, Ryo Ishikawa, has just received a special exemption into the Masters. But I ask you, is Ishikawa a worthy player to be invited at this time? Ishikawa was 7th on our money list last year and 75th in the World Ranking.

Masters Week

Will Ishikawa be rattled by huge crowds on Augusta National’s par-3 course? (John Garrity)

Augusta National chairman Billy Payne gave several reasons for the invitation, but especially the supposed enthusiasm for golf in Asia. That is important, but not so accurate. The total number of tickets sold for Japan men’s tour last year was 480,000 — for the whole season! That was a drop of 100,000 compared to 2011. It is a smaller number than ONE WEEK of admissions to the PGA Tour Phoenix Open.

Also, Ishikawa won the Taiheiyo Masters last November. It was his first win in two years. However, we counted the gallery on the course, and it was only 4,455 on Sunday. Also, Ishikawa has lost many big-money contracts, including Panasonic and Toyota. (I think it is because many Japanese citizens have come to believe pro golf is dishonest between the ropes.) He has lost his value at the market. He is not our golf pinup boy any more.

Ishikawa will make his season debut at La Quinta next week, but I wonder if he will make the top 125 on the money list. I also question that his appearance will give high TV ratings at the Masters.

Sometimes 21 is no longer young any more.

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Coastal Par-3 Breaks Into Top 50

Pebble Beach is so over-rated,” grouses a reader from Ft. Meade, Fla., dissing our ninth-ranked course. Another reader insists that sixth-ranked Augusta National is “a lot of fancy grass and prom corsages masquerading as a golf course.”

It would be easy to dismiss these comments as the ravings of unschooled dolts, but the Top 50 doesn’t operate that way. We investigate such claims. We put all our resources to the task. We even make calls.

Gary Van Sickle

Van Sickle ponders Pebble’s ranking while covering the U.S. Open at Olympic. (John Garrity)

To placate the Ft. Meade correspondent, we sent chief course rater Gary Van Sickle to Monterey to see if the iconic California layout had deteriorated since we last played it. Gary immediately wired back that it had not. “PEBBLE BEACH REMAINS THE GREATEST GOLFING EXPERIENCE IN THE WORLD STOP SEND EXPENSE MONEY STOP.”

He filed the rest of his report in the form of a GOLF.com article from which we quote to the full extent of the fair-use provisions of the Copyright Act:

Purists like to rate golf courses based on absolutes like shot values, relation to par and other inside-golf things. I’ve read those who say Pebble has 10 great holes and eight mediocre ones, and that it’s grossly overrated. I wish one of those critics could have been out on the peninsula with my group Sunday afternoon, basking in the early-evening golden light with postcard views in every direction, hearing the crashing of the waves, the squawk of the gulls and smelling the scent of the sea. Race the sun to the finish, like we did (although it was a very slowwww race), and try to play the 18th hole in the dark when you could no longer see the ball at your feet, and tell me Pebble Beach is overrated.

It isn’t. It’s an experience you can’t put a price on. You would pay just to walk this hallowed green and savor the dramatic meeting between land and sea. It’s special.

After playing Pebble, Gary visited the previously unranked Casserly Par-3 Golf Course in Watsonville, just up the coast. Finding it to be “better than a pleasant surprise” at $9 per round, he called our attention to Casserly’s signature hole, the 112-yard seventh, which calls for a carry over a ravine and a 60-foot pine that blocks the green. “I COULDN’T SEE THE PIN BEHIND THE PINE STOP VERY COOL STOP”

Gary’s enthusiasm for Casserly was almost as great as his enthusiasm for Pebble, so we have tentatively installed the Par-3 at No. 49, displacing Robert Trent Jones Jr.’s CordeValle Resort course, site of the PGA Tour’s Frys.com Open.

Practice round at Olympic

51st-ranked Olympic Club is tough from the back tees. (John Garrity)

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the U.S. Open is being played on the famous Lake Course at San Francisco’s Olympic Club, currently ranked No. 51. Further west, in Japan, they’re still agonizing over the abysmal attendance, in late May, at the Diamond Cup at the Country Club of Japan in the Tokyo suburbs. “Miserable results,” writes Duke Ishikawa, our chief Asian correspondent. “The four-day total was 6,839. Same week as Colonial. Thursday was only a thousand.”

There are several reasons for Japan’s attendance slump, but Duke says it’s mostly the fans’ infatuation with young Ryo Ishikawa (no relation), who is playing more American events. “I have suggested in my articles that Ryo play more in the U.S. because it’s the world’s strongest tour,” he writes, “and especially the Memorial, because that’s Jack’s tournament. But Katsuji Ebisawa, our tour’s new chairman, sent an official letter to Ryo entreating ‘please don’t forget the Japanese Tour.’

Duke continues: “The New York Times said ‘One Star Between Two Tours,’ but I don’t think Ryo is a star. He is just an idol, a gallery’s pet. Or a pin-up boy. But he still influences the sports show in Japan. To stay on the U.S. Tour or not, that is Ryo’s question.”

Pressed for another reason why fans might shun the Japanese tournaments, Duke mentions the high prices at concession stands. “At Japan Open my friends paid US $11 for a piece of sausage and a coke.”

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“Bus” to Tokyo Was Bae’s Ticket to Torrey Pines

LA JOLLA, CALIF. — As I write this, the second-round leader at the Farmers Insurance Open is PGA Tour rookie Sang-Moon Bae (65-67–132). I know very little about Bae, beyond the fact that sang is Sino-Korean for “benevolence” and moon is a variant of myung or myeong, which mean “clever” or “bright,” the secondary meaning of which provides a clue to the Anglicized spelling, as in “bright moon.” (Bae, of course, is Korean for “inspiration” or, if you favor the b-y-e spelling, “goodbye.”)

Knowing so little about Bae, I sent an emergency e-mail to the Top 50’s Director of Japanese Course-Rating and Chief Asian Correspondent, Duke “No Relation to Ryo” Ishikawa.

Duke immediately shot back a splendid e-mail informing me that Bae is the Korean who won last year’s Japan Open and topped the money list on the Japanese PGA Tour. “The same story was written in the year 2010,” Duke added, “but the player was different.

“For Koreans,” Duke explained, “the Japanese tour is just a bus stop on the way to Broadway or Hollywood. You get off the bus with 14 clubs in Tokyo. Then you beat all the Japanese and make enough money to buy a bus ticket to the next stop, which is the world’s strongest and richest tour.

Let’s continue in the popular Q&A format that relieves me of the responsibility of crafting sentences:

JG: Why are Korean golfers so successful in Japan?

Duke: One reason is our weak fields. The Japan tour doesn’t have good-enough players. That’s why many of our old-timers still have playing privileges on the regular tour. Massy Kuramoto and Kiyoshi Murota (who finished second last year at the U.S. Senior PGA Championship) will be 57 this year, but Murota still plays 16 regular tour events and Kuramoto plays 12. Isao Aoki, the first Japanese player to win on the PGA Tour, will be 70 this summer, but he played six tournaments in 2011.

JG: Senior events?

Duke: No, regular JPGA events. We ought to call it the “Old Timers Tour.” Aoki is older than my old friend Hale Irwin; he’s the same age as Tom Weiskopf. Murota and Kuramoto, they’re the same age as the Shark and two years older than Sir Faldo.

JG: Sir Faldo is here at Torrey Pines.

Duke: Playing the tournament?

JG: No, cracking wise for CBS.

Duke: That’s O.K., he’s old.

JG: Any other reasons why Korean golfers go to Japan?

Duke: The bigger reason is we have too easy courses almost every single week. Many of the courses were designed by a Japanese architect whose results have never been good. He gets the re-design job for many Japan Open courses — not because he’s good, but because he’s a director of the Japanese Golf Association. It’s all under the table, the negotiations are on the dark side. But that’s why many foreign golfers agree with the Australian, Paul Sheehan, who complains that the Japan Open plays similar courses every year.

JG: I know that golf is popular in Japan, but is it treated as a serious sport?

Duke: No, and that is the third reason. When you play at a Japanese private club, one female caddie still carries four bags the whole 18 holes.

JG: You don’t mean “carry,” do you? They’ve got those motorized trollies that rattle along over buried tracks.

Duke: Yes, but one female caddie for four players. Then we have to stop for lunch after nine holes.  You eat steak and drink a big glass of beer, like you’re at Octoberfest in Munich. It takes nearly an hour. How can you keep your concentration for the afternoon round?

JG: Do you have to have a caddie?

Duke: I carry a PING Mantis bag myself, because it saves time and I make better scores. But most courses still charge me the normal caddie fee. I tell them that in England even Winston Churchill and Lloyd George carried their own bags, but Japanese never understand. The courses provide caddies to all golfers because they believe that’s the best treatment.

JG: You sound pretty glum. Do you think the Japanese tour will bounce back in the years ahead?

Duke: I don’t know. Ryo Ishikawa is still twenty, but we see so many younger and better players like Tom Lewis, Patrick Cantley, Bud Cauley, Harris English, that whole bunch. It’s because many old courses here don’t like to open their doors to local kids. Plus there are no municipal-type courses in Japan. I’m very pessimistic about the future of golf in Japan.

Duke concluded by writing, “Anyway, I really want to see the Korean, Bae, win at Torrey Pines this week. Because he is our recent champion.”

Post Script: Duke might get his wish. The second round of the Farmers ended with Sang-Moon Bae in a third-place tie with Martin Flores, two strokes behind the leader, Kyle Stanley. Asked about his chances of winning, Bae said, “Well, first time on the PGA Tour this year, and there are many good players. I will try to be aggressive tomorrow and Sunday.”


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