Miyazato Mania Headed for LPGA

By Mercer BaggsFebruary 15, 2006, 5:00 pm
She says that she is 5-feet, 2-inches tall. Thats if shes standing on cement, wearing golf shoes with those super-long Phil Mickelson spikes.
More so, shes a legit 5 feet ' 60 inches from head to toe.
And yet shes bigger, at the moment, than most of us can possibly imagine.
Ai Miyazato
Ai Miyazato expects a large following during her rookie season on the LPGA Tour.
She is Ai Miyazato, a 20-year-old golfing prodigy from Japan who will make her debut as an LPGA Tour professional in this weeks SBS Open at Turtle Bay (TGC, Thurs. 6:30 PM/ET).
While much of the American attention in this event will be spread between Paula Creamer and Morgan Pressel and Natalie Gulbis, there will be Miyazato. She will be there with about 30 media members and hundreds of Japanese followers in tow.
Shes going to feel like shes at home, said Andy Wada, a commentator for The Golf Channel in Japan.
Miyazato is sporting royalty in Japan, on par with baseball icons Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui in terms of popularity ' the magnitude of which is almost shocking.
She has 11 different sponsors, is the star of no fewer than nine different television commercials, and cant as much as go to the mall without having to wear a disguise.
She really draws no comparison to any player in the U.S. Tiger Woods has about the same amount of sponsors, but he receives about half the television exposure as does Miyazato. And, aside from wearing a ball cap and maybe some sunglasses, Woods is easily recognizable when he makes a coffee run around his Orlando home.
In fact, the tournaments in which she competes in Japan regularly receive double the ratings of mens events contested the same week. In 2004, a tournament she won was seen by nearly three times the viewing audience as was the Dunlop Phoenix Open, which was won by Woods.
According to Wada, her manager says that shes bigger than soccer star David Beckham. That might not mean too much to many in the States, but thats BIG TIME.
She is probably bigger than the game itself right now in Japan, Wada said without a hint of hyperbole. People who dont know golf know Ai. Like when Tiger came out. He brought in people who were not fans of golf.
People dont want to know who won the golf tournament; they want to know how Ai did.
In baseball, the term three-tool player is used to describe a talent who can hit well, throw well and run well.
Miyazato, a native of Higashi in northern Okinawa, is a three-tool player in the world of popularity and marketability: young, cute and talented.
Its not just from a professional athlete standpoint ' shes like a pop star, Wada said. Shes just always smiling ' people in America say, The girl next door. Thats her. That has attracted many fans.
As has her success.
She has won 12 times on the Japan LPGA Tour over the last two-plus years, thus giving rise to Miyazato Mania, which reached a fever pitch last December when she won the LPGA Tour Qualifying Tournament by a record 12 strokes.
The media crush that week in Daytona Beach, Fla., was astounding, like something reserved for only major championships in womens golf.
Miyazatos gallery often numbered in the hundreds, with most of them ' more than 70 ' being members of the Japanese press. All for one person. By comparison, according to LPGA media officials, only about 10 reporters total covered the Q-school finals the year prior.
One of those reporters last year at LPGA International was Reiko Takekawa, who writes for Kyodo News, a Japanese wire service much like the Associated Press in the U.S.
Takekawa, whose primary job was to follow the likes of Shigeki Maruyama on the PGA Tour, has now been assigned to focus on Miyazato. She said that she expects to be one of dozens of reporters from various Japanese news outlets to tag along with Miyazato at each and every U.S. stop.
Again, all this for one person.
There is good reason for all the fuss. Japanese fans are clamoring for their next golfing great, to join the likes of Hall of Fame members Ayako Okamoto, Hisako Chako Higuchi and Isao Aoki.
Maruyama has won three times on the PGA Tour, but while many Asian-born players have found success on the U.S. womens circuit ' particularly Korean players ' there hasnt been a Japanese-born winner on the LPGA since Akiko Fukushima in 1999.
Should Miyazato end this drought, it would not only be wonderful for her homeland; it would likely lead to a financial windfall for the LPGA. The tours biggest cash cow is currently Korean TV. LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens would love to strike similar financial deals with the Japanese.
In Asia, as we all know, womens golf oftentimes will have higher ratings than the mens golf, she said at Q-school. I think we are going to see some of that over here.
This weeks tournament will be Miyazatos first official LPGA start as a rookie, but not her first-ever tour event. Last year, she competed six times on the LPGA, earning a pair of top-10s and a tie for 11th at the Womens British Open, as well as over $100,000. She also led Japan to victory in the Womens World Cup.
Ai Miyazato
Miyazato had a pair of top-10s in six starts last year on the LPGA.
Miyazato and compatriot Sakura Yokomine were unable to defend their countrys World Cup title this year, finishing 12th. There hasnt been much success on the course since her Q-school runaway. She missed the cut badly last December in the Okinawa Open, a mens event on the Japan Golf Tour. Two weeks ago in Australia, she tied for 49th in the ANZ Ladies Masters.
One Australian newspaper reported that more than 1,200 Japanese fans flew to the Gold Coast to watch Miyazato compete in the tournament which she lost the previous year to Karrie Webb in a playoff.
And according to Takekawa, who reported from the World Cup, there were around 30 media members and over 100 fans who made the trip to South Africa.
While in South Africa, Takekawa said Miyazato went on safari, and in Australia she was treated to an encounter with koalas, a swim with dolphins, and trips to expensive boutiques.
The kind of activities reserved for those of superstar status.
But while life is good at the moment, its not all sunshine and smiles.
Miyazato was criticized by fans and some media over her performance and preparation at the World Cup, according to Takekawa. And it wasnt much better after she failed to break 70 over four rounds at the ANZ and finished 14 strokes back of winner Amy Yang - a 16-year-old amateur, nonetheless.
But, as Wada pointed out, Miyazato didnt arrive in South Africa until the Tuesday night before the tournament began due to problems acquiring her U.S. visa, which she needs for this season. And she had only one round ' a pro-am ' to familiarize herself with the course and her partner ' both of which were different from the year prior.
While a little depressed in the aftermath of her World Cup performance (which may have contributed to her less-than-stellar play in Australia), Miyazato is neither sulking nor crumbling under the intense weight on her narrow shoulders, says Takekawa. Rather, shes looking very much forward to her foray into womens golf in the States.
Miyazato is expected to play about 20 LPGA events this season. It begins this week, where she has her two older brothers, Yusaku and Kiyoshi, both of whom play on the Japanese mens tour, on hand in Hawaii to help in her training.
In all, Team Ai consists of among others, a manager, a trainer, a translator and a veteran, English-speaking caddie who used work for Laura Davies.
Later this month, she will move into a home in Newport Beach, Cal., which will serve as her American base, and give her a better opportunity to explore American culture.
'I don't think she has any plans to go back to Japan until August,' said Wada.
Miyazato revealed at Q-school that she loves American music, American movies and even American food.
She has also befriended the likes of Finlands Minea Blomqvist and Swede Louise Stahle, both fellow rookies on tour this season, which will help make the transition a little smoother.
Her goal for the 2006 season is simple: I want to keep my card,' she said.
That wouldnt seem like much of a challenge for such a talent, but Miyazato says that she likes to take care of the little things, which, in turn, will lead to things bigger and better.
Though, many are anticipating the bigger and the better sooner rather than later.
Expectations from the media and also the public are very, very high, said Wada. People will be disappointed if she does not win on the LPGA Tour.
'There's a lot of pressure, but she handles the media very well. She's very level-headed, I've been told by a lot of other players.'
Such great expectations for such a diminutive, such a young lady. But Miyazato is not without great ambition herself. The cute girl, the one with the girl next door looks, and the omni-present smile, the one with the slow, hypnotic swing and the astute accuracy has considerable focus and drive.
She bypassed a chance to win last years money title on the Japanese LPGA, skipping the season finale to arrive early in the U.S. to prepare for Q-school, which was the following week. That worked out rather well.
But to get a real sense of her mentality one need only look at her signature. When granting an autograph request, she always pens Ai 54. The number even adorns her golf bag. Her website is ai-miyazato54.com
Anything is possible, she says. And when she says anything, she means ANYTHING. The 54 is in relation to her belief that shooting 54 ' making 18 birdies over 18 holes ' is possible. Its called the Vision 54 philosophy, which is shared by her idol, Sorenstam.
I will make it one day, she said while in Australia. I think its possible.
The world, not just Japan, is hers if she does.
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    Copycat: Honda's 17th teeters on edge of good taste

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 12:37 am

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The Honda Classic won’t pack as many fans around its party hole this week as the Phoenix Open does, but there is something more intensely intimate about PGA National’s stadium setup.

    Players feel like the spectators in the bleachers at the tee box at Honda’s 17th hole are right on top of them.

    “If the wind’s wrong at the 17th tee, you can get a vodka cranberry splashed on you,” Graeme McDowell cracked. “They are that close.”

    Plus, the 17th at the Champion Course is a more difficult shot than the one players face at Scottsdale's 16th.

    It’s a 162-yard tee shot at the Phoenix Open with no water in sight.

    It’s a 190-yard tee shot at the Honda Classic, to a small, kidney-shaped green, with water guarding the front and right side of the green and a bunker strategically pinched into the back-center. Plus, it’s a shot that typically must be played through South Florida’s brisk winter winds.

    “I’ve hit 3- and 4-irons in there,” McDowell said. “It’s a proper golf hole.”

    It’s a shot that can decide who wins late on a Sunday, with hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line.

    Factor in the intensely intimate nature of that hole, with fans partaking in libations at the Gosling Bear Trap pavilion behind the 17th tee and the Cobra Puma Village behind the 17th green, and the degree of difficulty there makes it one of the most difficult par 3s on the PGA Tour. It ranked as the 21st most difficult par 3 on the PGA Tour last year with a 3.20 scoring average. Scottsdale's 16th ranked 160th at 2.98.

    That’s a fairly large reason why pros teeing it up at the Honda Classic don’t want to see the Phoenix-like lunacy spill over here the way it threatened to last year.

    That possibility concerns players increasingly agitated by the growing unruliness at tour events outside Phoenix. Rory McIlroy said the craziness that followed his pairing with Tiger Woods in Los Angeles last week left him wanting a “couple Advil.” Justin Thomas, also in that grouping, said it “got a little out of hand.”

    Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    So players will be on alert arriving at the Honda Classic’s 17th hole this week.

    A year ago, Billy Horschel complained to PGA Tour officials about the heckling Sergio Garcia and other players received there.

    Horschel told GolfChannel.com last year that he worried the Honda Classic might lose some of its appeal to players if unruly fan behavior grew worse at the party hole, but he said beefed up security helped on the weekend. Horschel is back this year, and so is Garcia, good signs for Honda as it walks the fine line between promoting a good party and a good golf tournament.

    “I embrace any good sporting atmosphere as long as it stays respectful,” Ian Poulter said. “At times, the line has been crossed out here on Tour. People just need to be sensible. I am not cool with being abused.

    “Whenever you mix alcohol with a group of fans all day, then Dutch courage kicks in at some stage.”

    Bottom line, Poulter likes the extra excitement fans can create, not the insults some can hurl.

    “I am all up for loud crowds,” he said. “A bit of jeering and fun is great, but just keep it respectful. It’s a shame it goes over the line sometimes. It needs to be managed.”

    Honda Classic executive director Ken Kennerly oversees that tough job. In 12 years leading the event, he has built the tournament into something special. The attendance has boomed from an estimated 65,000 his first year at the helm to more than 200,000 last year.

    With Tiger Woods committed to play this year, Kennerly is hopeful the tournament sets an attendance record. The arrival of Woods, however, heightens the challenges.

    Woods is going off with the late pairings on Friday, meaning he will arrive at Honda’s party hole late in the day, when the party’s fully percolating.

    Kennerly is expecting 17,000 fans to pack that stadium-like atmosphere on the event’s busiest days.

    Kennerly is also expecting the best from South Florida fans.

    “We have a zero tolerance policy,” Kennerly said. “We have more police officers there, security and more marshals.

    “We don’t want to be nasty and throw people out, but we want them to be respectful to players. We also want it to continue to be a fun place for people to hang out, because we aren’t getting 200,000 people here just to watch golf.”

    Kennerly said unruly fans will be ejected.

    “But we think people will be respectful, and I expect when Tiger and the superstars come through there, they aren’t going to have an issue,” Kennerly said.

    McDowell believes Kennerly has the right balance working, and he expects to see that again this week.

    “They’ve really taken this event up a couple notches the last five or 10 years with the job they’ve done, especially with what they’ve done at the 16th and 17th holes,” McDowell said. “I’ve been here a lot, and I don’t think it’s gotten to the Phoenix level yet.”

    The real test of that may come Friday when Woods makes his way through there at the end of the day.

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    Door officially open for Woods to be playing vice captain

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 20, 2018, 11:50 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Thirteen months ago, when Jim Furyk was named the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, one of the biggest questions was what would happen if Furyk were to play his way onto his own team.

    It wasn’t that unrealistic. 

    At the time, Furyk was 46 and coming off a season in which he tied for second at the U.S. Open and shot 58 in a PGA Tour event. If anything, accepting the Ryder Cup captaincy seemed premature.

    And now?

    Now, he’s slowly recovering from shoulder surgery that knocked him out of action for six months. He’s ranked 230th in the world. He’s planning to play an 18-event schedule, on past champion status, mostly to be visible and available to prospective team members.

    A playing captain? Furyk chuckled at the thought.

    “Wow,” he said here at PGA of America headquarters, “that would be crazy-difficult.”

    That’s important to remember when assessing Tiger Woods’ chances of becoming a playing vice captain.

    On Tuesday, Woods was named an assistant for the matches at Le Golf National, signing up for months of group texts and a week in which he'd sport an earpiece, scribble potential pairings on a sheet of paper and fetch anything Team USA needs.

    It’s become an increasingly familiar role for Woods, except this appointment isn’t anything like his vice captaincy at Hazeltine in 2016 or last year’s Presidents Cup.

    Unlike the past few years, when his competitive future was in doubt because of debilitating back pain, there’s at least a chance now that Woods can qualify for the team on his own, or deserve consideration as a captain’s pick. 

    There’s a long way to go, of course. He’s 104th in the points standings. He’s made only two official starts since August 2015. His driving needs a lot of work. He hasn’t threatened serious contention, and he might not for a while. But, again: Come September, it’s possible.

    And so here was Woods’ taped message Tuesday: “My goal is to make the team, but whatever happens over the course of this season, I will continue to do whatever I can to help us keep the cup.”

    That follows what Woods told reporters last week at Riviera, when he expressed a desire to be a playing vice captain.

    “Why can’t I have both?” he said. “I like both.”

    Furyk, eventually, will have five assistants in Paris, and he could have waited to see how Woods fared this year before assigning him an official role.

    He opted against that. Woods is too valuable of an asset.

    “I want him on-board right now,” Furyk said.

    Arnold Palmer was the last to serve as both player and captain for a Ryder Cup – in 1963. Nothing about the Ryder Cup bears any resemblance to those matches, other than there’s still a winner and a loser. There is more responsibility now. More planning. More strategy. More pressure.

    For the past two team competitions, the Americans have split into four-man pods that practiced together under the supervision of one of the assistants. That assistant then relayed any pertinent information to the captain, who made the final decision.

    The assistants are relied upon even more once the matches begin. Furyk will need to be on the first tee for at least the first hour of the matches, welcoming all of the participants and doing interviews for the event’s many TV partners, and he needs an assistant with each of the matches out on the course. They’re the captain’s eyes and ears.

    Furyk would need to weigh whether Woods’ potential impact as a vice captain – by all accounts he’s the best Xs-and-Os specialist – is worth more than the few points he could earn on the course. Could he adequately handle both tasks? Would dividing his attention actually be detrimental to the team?

    “That would be a bridge we cross when we got there,” Furyk said.

    If Woods plays well enough, then it’s hard to imagine him being left off the roster, even with all of the attendant challenges of the dual role.

    “It’s possible,” Furyk said, “but whether that’s the best thing for the team, we’ll see.”

    It’s only February, and this comeback is still new. As Furyk himself knows, a lot can change over the course of a year.

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    Furyk tabs Woods, Stricker as Ryder Cup vice captains

    By Will GrayFebruary 20, 2018, 9:02 pm

    U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk has added Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker to his stable of vice captains to aid in his quest to win on foreign soil for the first time in 25 years.

    Furyk made the announcement Tuesday in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., site of this week's Honda Classic. He had previously named Davis Love III as his first vice captain, with a fourth expected to be named before the biennial matches kick off in France this September.

    The addition of Woods and Stricker means that the team room will have a familiar feel from two years ago, when Love was the U.S. captain and Furyk, Woods, Stricker and Tom Lehman served as assistants.

    This will be the third time as vice captain for Stricker, who last year guided the U.S. to victory as Presidents Cup captain. After compiling a 3-7-1 individual record as a Ryder Cup player from 2008-12, Stricker served as an assistant to Tom Watson at Gleneagles in 2014 before donning an earpiece two years ago on Love's squad at Hazeltine.

    "This is a great honor for me, and I am once again thrilled to be a vice captain,” Stricker said in a statement. “We plan to keep the momentum and the spirit of Hazeltine alive and channel it to our advantage in Paris."

    Woods will make his second appearance as a vice captain, having served in 2016 and also on Stricker's Presidents Cup team last year. Woods played on seven Ryder Cup teams from 1997-2012, and last week at the Genesis Open he told reporters he would be open to a dual role as both an assistant and a playing member this fall.

    "I am thrilled to once again serve as a Ryder Cup vice captain and I thank Jim for his confidence, friendship and support," Woods said in a statement. "My goal is to make the team, but whatever happens over the course of this season, I will continue to do what I can to help us keep the cup."

    The Ryder Cup will be held Sept. 28-30 at Le Golf National in Paris. The U.S. has not won in Europe since 1993 at The Belfry in England.

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    Watch: Guy wins $75K boat, $25K cash with 120-foot putt

    By Grill Room TeamFebruary 20, 2018, 8:15 pm

    Making a 120-foot putt in front of a crowd of screaming people would be an award in and of itself for most golfers out there, but one lucky Minnesota man recently got a little something extra for his effort.

    The Minnesota Golf Show at the Minneapolis Convention Center has held a $100,000 putting contest for 28 years, and on Sunday, Paul Shadle, a 49-year-old pilot from Rosemount, Minnesota, became the first person ever to sink the putt, winning a pontoon boat valued at $75,000 and $25,000 cash in the process.

    But that's not the whole story. Shadle, who describes himself as a "weekend golfer," made separate 100-foot and 50-foot putts to qualify for an attempt at the $100K grand prize – in case you were wondering how it's possible no one had ever made the putt before.

    "Closed my eyes and hoped for the best," Shadle said of the attempt(s).

    Hard to argue with the result.