ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Next time Ryo Ishikawa finds himself in contention at a major championship, he wants to be strong enough to handle it.
Surging into a four-way tie for second following the second round of the U.S. Open last month, the 18-year-old sensation from Japan faded to a tie for 33rd. While Ishikawa admits he felt more pressure than he expected at Pebble Beach, the bigger problem was his physical stamina. It was only the second time the teenager made the cut at a major championship; he tied for 56th at the PGA Championship last year.
“My pulse was moving a little bit fast, and it was kind of hard to breathe,” Ishikawa said Tuesday through a translator. “It’s like playing golf while running. When that happens, my mind is a little bit hard to understand, like everything that’s going around. … Hopefully, in the future, if I finish in the top after the first and second rounds, I would like to have the physical strength to play all four days in (top shape).”
While his childhood friends were cramming for exams and worrying about getting their driver’s licenses, Ishikawa was hanging with golf’s big boys. He won his first event at 15, when he was still an amateur, and was the youngest player to crack the top 100 in the world rankings.
He’s won seven times on the Japan Tour since turning pro in 2007, and in May recorded the lowest score ever on a major tour with a 12-under 58 in the final round at The Crowns.
“It would be a lie if I said that I’m not satisfied with that score,” Ishikawa said. “But if I’m satisfied with playing golf so much, then there is no progress for me.”
It’s progress with his game that matters most, of course. But like any teenager, Ishikawa is also changing as a person.
The spiky hair that was once his trademark – even his Cabbage Patch Kid-like doll head cover sported the ‘do – is gone, replaced by a mop of curls. Once nicknamed “The Bashful Prince,” he grows more confident with every event, and is working hard on his English so he won’t have to use a translator.
There’s still some kid left in him, though. Asked about the Old Course, Ishikawa’s eyes grew wide and he couldn’t help smiling.
“Out of the four majors, the Open Championship has the longest history, and I feel the history of the course,” he said. “I also feel the home of golf playing here. That makes me feel so glad that I get to be a professional golfer.”
Ishikawa opened with a 68 at Turnberry last year, only to follow it with a 78 and miss the cut. The Old Course at St. Andrews is somewhat more forgiving with its wider fairways and bigger greens. But its devilish pot bunkers add a different dimension.
Should he find himself among the leaders going into the weekend, Ishikawa will need every bit of strength – mental and physical – he has. After that experience at the U.S. Open, though, he’s confident he’s in better shape.
“It’s always tough to win the major championships, and it goes for everyone that’s in the tournament,” Ishikawa said. “If winning a major championship is 100 meters away, after the U.S. Open, I’m a little bit closer, like five or six meters, to winning a major championship.”