February 16, 2009

Rock Star In Japan, But In America ...

As 17-year old prodigy Ryo Ishikawa prepares for his American debut, Golf World's John Strege wonders how well his talent will translate to performance

More than 100 additional press credentials were issued for the Northern Trust Open, all to the Japanese media.

More than 100 additional press credentials were issued for the Northern Trust Open, all to the Japanese media.

PACIFIC PALISADES, CALIF. -- Ryo Ishikawa already has made a statement, days before his PGA Tour debut, by sporting a pair of bright yellow pants that probably can only be worn by one with enough talent to support such ostentation. He must be good.

He surely is popular, swelling the number of media credentials for the Northern Trust Open this week to 400 -- 100 more than were issued for this tournament a year ago and the most issued in the history of the event. The extra 100 were all issued to Japanese media outlets eager to cover the 17-year-old prodigy, who enjoys (or at least endures) rock-star status at home.

They're here now to see how well his talent travels. A three-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour (including once as a 15-year-old amateur), Ishikawa has never played a PGA Tour or European Tour event, though he already is 67th on the World Ranking.

On Tuesday at Riviera Country Club, Ishikawa played a practice round with J.J. Henry and Chris DiMarco, both of whom he said were gracious with their advice on how to play every hole.

"First and foremost the kid's extremely respectful and humble, which stood out as much as anything," DiMarco said. "As far as his game goes, I don't see any flaws. He can't miss. As soon as he gets more and more experience, he'll be unbelievable. The only thing I worry about is whether he gets burned out early."

Henry's impression: "Playing with Ryo made it apparent that he is a great talent and is even a nicer young man. For him to have all the pieces to compete at such a young age is extremely impressive."

After his practice round, Ishikawa conducted a news conference that he began in English.

"Hello, America," he said.

Beyond that, an interpreter was required, though the interpreter acknowledged that some of his answers were difficult to interpret.

In response to a question regarding his colorful attire, for instance, he replied, "After turning professional, I could wear colorful shirts and pants, which motivate me very much."

Early in the news conference, Ishikawa noted that he heard there had been a debate on the proper pronunciation of his first name. The emphasis, he said, is on the YO.

As for his goal here this week, making the cut would be sufficient, he said.

"The golf course is fantastic," Ishikawa said. "Very challenging."

He said that he is largely immune to the media attention, which is substantial. When he arrived at the Narita International Airport in Japan for his flight to the U.S. last weekend, a group of reporters and photographers were on hand to send him off.

A horde of them were on hand for his practice round on a wet Monday afternoon and again on Tuesday. When his golf bag sat unattended on a putting green, photographers crowded around it, taking pictures of his clubs.

All of this, of course, is good for the tournament, particularly one without Tiger Woods in the field..

"We're getting a lot more media," tournament director Tom Pulchinski said. "We've got a lot of Japanese and Asian media here. The tournament did a lot of advertising in the Asian communities here."

Ishikawa goes off at 8:45 a.m. (PST) Thursday, when the world of golf beyond Japan will begin to gauge for themselves whether his future is as bright as his clothing.