CITY OF INDUSTRY, Calif. – Ai Miyazato spent four days fearing the absolute worst after the earthquake and tsunami devastated northern Japan.
When the star LPGA golfer finally learned her friends were safe in tsunami-flattened Sendai, she resolved to join her fellow Japanese players in helping their homeland’s recovery while still pursuing their careers.
Ai Miyazato, Momoku Ueda and Mika Miyazato are returning to the LPGA this week at the Kia Classic in suburban Los Angeles. They announced plans Tuesday to channel their grief into disaster relief through a fundraising website and a supportive logo to wear in upcoming tournaments.
“I’ve never had this situation before, so it could be difficult to have good concentration during the tournament,” said Ai Miyazato, the former world No. 1. “But all I can do is just stay in the present and do something like playing really good … and hopefully get back good news to Japan. Maybe one of my responsibilities is to provide hope and courage to the Japanese people, but at the same time just be able to deal with the day-to-day tasks as they appear.”
The three players have paid to set up a fundraising site for a nonprofit relief organization, and they’re hoping their fellow pros will join them in wearing the self-designed buttons with Japanese characters reading: “Makeruna Nippon,” or “Never Give Up Japan.”
But the tragedy is still fresh in the minds of the golfers, who were all in Japan when the earthquake and tsunami hit March 11.
Ueda was on the freeway in Tokyo when the earthquake hit, literally feeling the ground shake beneath her.
“The initial emotion was speechless, and it’s still the same right now,” Ueda said. “I’ve seen someone being rescued after nine days at the site, as well as other stories. I feel sadness, (but) feeling sad just can’t move us forward in the right direction. So with golf, hopefully, I can provide smiles to as many people as possible. Right now sadness is behind me.”
Mika Miyazato, no relation to Ai Miyazato, was on a flight from Okinawa to Osaka, not learning exactly what happened until the following day.
“It’s certainly difficult right now,” Mika Miyazato said. “But I feel that it is one of my responsibilities as a professional golfer to go out and play, hopefully be able to provide hope and courage to the Japanese people.”
Ai Miyazato’s family is from southern Japan, but she went to high school in northern Sendai. She spent several days trying to contact close friends who lost their houses but managed to stick together in a gymnasium.
“Everyone is safe,” Ai Miyazato said. “At least that makes me feel relief.”
She was still in Japan after finishing 14th in the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore. Miyazato won that event and the LPGA Thailand in 2010, becoming the first player in 44 years to sweep the LPGA’s first two events of the season.
Miyazato finished with five victories last year, holding the No. 1 ranking for a stretch.
All three players are wearing their self-designed buttons on their caps, and top-ranked Yani Tseng also wore the button Tuesday at her news conference. The Japanese golfers plan to distribute the buttons to others during the evening player meeting, asking them to display the logo on their caps or bags.
All three players only returned from Japan a few days ago, but they’ll attempt to get their seasons back on track while keeping bigger concerns in mind.
“I didn’t even know if coming to the U.S. was the right decision,” Mika Miyazato said. “But I feel that I want people to get back to their normal lives and live their normal lives as soon as possible.”