March 30, 2009

Spotlight: Playing in the Masters at 17

He's only 5-feet-7, 150 pounds, but Ryo Ishikawa is a giant in Japanese pop culture -- especially since the 17-year-old received an invite to play in this year's Masters. The news made the front pages of all the major sports newspapers in Japan.

Ishikawa, who first achieved celebrity status in May 2007 when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup at age 15, is the youngest winner of a Japanese tour event. After he turned pro in 2008, he became the youngest professional to win on the Japan tour, at the Mynavi ABC Championship in November.

He will be the second-youngest competitor in Masters history, behind Tommy Jacobs (17 years, 1 month, 21 days), who qualified as an amateur in 1952.

When we interviewed Ishikawa in March 2008, he said, "I hope to play in the Masters when I'm 20. I have dreamed of winning the Masters since I first saw it on TV when I was 10."

Ishikawa is one of three teens in the Masters field. Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, 19, qualified by finishing in the top 50 of the final World Golf Ranking for 2008. After he won the Dubai Desert Classic on Feb. 1 of this year, he climbed to 16th in the world. Danny Lee, 18, of New Zealand, also qualified by winning the 2008 U.S. Amateur.