Don't forget Ryo

January 21, 2009

The youth movement to which the media often alludes these days focuses on Anthony Kim (23) and Camilo Villegas (26), to the exclusion of the most intriguing, albeit still unproven, player.

Japan prodigy Ryo Ishikawa, 17, already is ranked 60th in the world, despite never having played in a PGA Tour or European PGA Tour event. The Northern Trust Open announced Wednesday that Ishikawa has been given an exemption and will make his PGA Tour debut in the event at Riviera Country Club Feb. 19-22.

Last year, in his rookie season as a professional, he became the youngest professional athlete in the history of Japan to earn 100 million yen (his Japan Golf Tour earnings were 106,318,166 yen, or more than $1.18 million). In his last eight tournaments, he won once, finished second twice and in the top five in five of the eight. He also won a JGT event at 15, while still an amateur.

The question is how well his talent will travel; only a few weeks ago did he play his first major competition outside Japan (excluding the Callaway Junior World in San Diego in 2007) - the Royal Trophy, a team event pitting Asia vs. Europe, played in Thailand.

One Japanese writer, Mitsunori Toda of the Daily Yomiuri, wonders, too. Toda questioned whether Ishikawa's prodigious length and fearlessness from the tee, however narrow the fairway, is sufficient to compete beyond Japanese borders. The key passage:

"But if you look at the example of baseball, it has been difficult for Japanese athletes to compete overseas by just relying on power. Skillful Seattle Mariner Ichiro Suzuki has excelled over Hideki Matsui, who hit 50 homers in his final season with the Yomiuri Giants, but has averaged 18.6 in six seasons with the New York Yankees. In this sense, whether Ishikawa, ideally gunning to always blast a straight 350-yard shot off the tees, can be competitive on the world stage has drawn much interest among Japanese fans."

-- John Strege