Miyazato Mania Returns for Sophomore Season

By Associated PressFebruary 26, 2007, 5:00 pm
LPGA logo for LeaderboardsKAPOLEI, Hawaii -- Ai Miyazato is everywhere in Japan: on billboards at the airport, magazine covers, TV commercials and daily sports pages. But Miyazato isn't satisfied with just being a superstar in Japan -- she wants to be a winner in the U.S.
In the first two LPGA Tour events of the year, the pint-sized shotmaker commanded the largest galleries and media attention. There were more than 50 Japanese reporters and photographers in Ai's Army following her every move in the Fields Open, which ended Saturday with Miyazato closing with a 66 to tie for third.
Ai Miyazato'I get so much exposure in the Japanese media that (American) people see me not for my golf but as this person who is famous in Japan,' she said. 'But if I win here and move up, I think they'll respect my golf. I'd like people to start to see my game.'
The 21-year-old Miyazato is entering her second season the LPGA Tour after a winless rookie season. She had seven top-10 finishes last year, including a third-place tie in the LPGA Championship.
'Playing in each tournament last year was a really good experience,' said Miyazato, who lives part-time in Orange County, Calif. 'It was my dream to improve my game and then come play in the United States. I had some tough times last year but it was really fun.'
Many challenges confronted Miyazato.
'First, English. Next, the level of play is much higher than Japan. Everyone here is very competitive, so to win, you need a lot of concentration,' she said.
She's still working on her English, which has improved greatly with the help of manager Takumi Zaoya, but it isn't as smooth as her effortless swing.
Her goals this year are simple: to win soon and finish in the top-10 on the money list. She finished 22nd last year with $532,053 in 21 events.
It's not as though Miyazato hasn't experienced winning. It seems she adds to her trophy collection almost every time she returns to Japan, winning twice last year, giving her 13 victories in three years.
So why not stay in Japan and keep winning?
'I want to be more strong like Tiger Woods,' she said. 'There's a lot more I can learn in Japan, but it's been my dream to win over here, and I want to fulfill my dream.'
At 5-foot-1 and maybe breaking 100 pounds after hitting an all-you-can-eat sushi bar, Miyazato rivals South Korea's Mi Hyun Kim for the most diminutive player on tour.
But she has no problem off the tees and rarely gets herself into trouble. She ranked ninth on tour last year in rounds in the 60s and 13th in rounds under par.
Miyazato grew up in Okinawa and learned the game from her father, Masaru Miyazato, a golf pro. She has two brothers who play professionally in Japan.
After Miyazato missed the cut in the season-opening SBS Open because of her woeful putting, her father came to Hawaii to give her a slight tuneup. After adjusting her grip, Miyazato was back in form and finished tied for third at the Fields Open in Hawaii, matching her best finish since joining the tour.
Miyazato said the thing she loves the most about golf is: 'You can practice and practice and there's no limit to how much good you can get.'
No limits is what Miyazato is all about. Her web site is ai-miyazato54.com and she also signs her autograph 'Ai 54.' The 54 represents the vision of a round of 18-under par -- or one birdie per hole.
She said the most challenging part about golf is that even with the physical ability and technical skills, you need the right state of mind.
'You can't just practice, you also have to care about the mental aspects of the game. That's very difficult,' she said.
Dealing with the media, on the other hand, is a breeze for her.
Morgan Pressel, first got a glimpse of Miyazato mania at Q-school in 2005 where the Japanese star won by a record 12 strokes. She said the media circus was 'crazy.'
At Miyazato's rookie debut at last year's SBS Open, tournament officials had to open a separate banquet hall for the media. The previous year, there were only about a dozen reporters even with hometown hero Michelle Wie in the field.
There were several other LPGA events where the media rooms had to be expanded.
'It's amazing that so many come,' Miyazato said. 'It's a mystery to me.'
To others, it's not so mysterious. Miyazato is dedicated, personable, articulate and possesses a smile as famous as Mount Fuji.
Her popularity is so strong that TV ratings for a tournament she won a few years ago were three times higher than the men's event in Japan that week, which featured Tiger Woods winning wire-to-wire at the Dunlop Phoenix.
'She's mentally strong,' said Yukiko Naruse, a 39-year-old office worker from Tokyo, who watched Miyazato in the Fields. 'Of the young generation of players, she's the first to make it to the majors. That's why I think everyone watches her.'
With the cameras and reporters always in tow, Miyazato realizes that a nation is watching her every move and anxiously awaiting her first LPGA Tour victory.
'I'm here because it's my dream, so it's for me. But I have a lot of fans in Japan. They have great expectations for me and I also want to win for them,' she said.
Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Getty Images

What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

Getty Images

Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

Getty Images

Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.