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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Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - SBS Open
  • Mercer Baggs - Ai Opener
  • Day, Spieth chasing Davis after Day 1 of Aussie Open

    By Jason CrookNovember 23, 2017, 6:50 am

    The PGA Tour is off this week but a couple of the circuit’s biggest stars – Jordan Spieth and Jason Day – are headlining the Emirates Australian Open, the first event in The Open Qualifying Series for the 2018 Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things look after the opening round, where Cameron Davis has opened up a two-shot lead:

    Leaderboard: Cameron Davis (-8), Taylor MacDonald (-6), Nick Cullen (-5), Jason Day (-5), Brian Campbell (-4), Lucas Herbert (-4), Stephen Leaney (-4), Anthony Quayle (-4)

    What it means: Jordan Spieth has won this event three of the last four years, including last year, but he got off to a rocky start on Thursday. Playing in the windy afternoon wave, the world No. 2 bogeyed his first two holes but rebounded with birdies on Nos. 4 and 5. It was more of the same the rest of the way as the 24-year-old carded three more bogeys and four birdies, getting into the clubhouse with a 1-under 70. While it certainly wasn't the start he was hoping for, Spieth didn't shoot himself out of the tournament with 54 holes left to play, he has plenty of time to claw his way up the leaderboard.

    Round of the day: With Round 1 in the books, the solo leader, Davis, is the easy pick here. The 22-year-old Aussie who turned pro last year, came out of the gates on fire, birdieing six of his first seven holes, including four in a row on Nos. 4 through 7. He did drop a shot on the ninth hole to go out in 30 but rebounded with three more birdies on the back to card a 8-under 63. Davis, who was born in Sydney and played this year on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada. He will attempt to get his Web.com Tour card next month during qualifying in Arizona.

    Best of the rest: Making his first start in his home country in four years, Day started on the 10th hole at The Australian Golf Club and made four birdies to one bogey on the back side before adding four more circles after making the turn. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old, he also added an ugly double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole and had to settle for a 5-under 66, good enough to sit T-3. Day, who has dropped to No. 12 in the world rankings, is looking for his first win on any tour since the 2016 Players Championship.

    Main storyline heading into Friday: Can the upstart 22-year-old Davis hold off the star power chasing him or will he fold to the pressure of major champions in his rearview mirror? Day (afternoon) and Spieth (morning) are once again on opposite ends of the draw on Friday as they try to improve their position before the weekend.

    Shot of the day: It’s tough to beat an ace in this category, and we had one of those on Thursday from Australian Brad Shilton. Shilton’s hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole came with a special prize, a $16k watch.

    Quote of the day: “Just two bad holes. Pretty much just two bad swings for the day,” – Day, after his 66 on Thursday. 

    Watch: Shilton wins $16k timepiece with hole-in-one

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 2:50 am

    Australian Brad Shilton made a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole during the first round of the Australian Open, and he was rewarded handsomely for his efforts - with a Tag Heuer watch worth $16k.

    Day gets in early mix with 66 in return to Australia

    By Associated PressNovember 23, 2017, 2:32 am

    SYDNEY - Jason Day's first tournament round in Australia in four years was a 5-under 66 to put him among the leaders early Thursday at the Australian Open.

    Day's round came unhinged late with a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole, his second-last of the day. He hit his tee shot into the trees on the left, hit back out to the fairway, missed his approach to the green and then couldn't get up and down.

    ''That was brutal,'' Day said of the 481-yard hole that played into gusting winds.

    But Day recovered quickly to birdie his last to sit three strokes behind fellow Australian and early leader Cameron Davis, who started on the first, had six front-nine birdies and shot 63 at The Australian Golf Club.

    In between the two was Australian Taylor MacDonald, who shot 65.

    ''It was a pretty solid round, I didn't miss many fairways, I didn't miss many greens,'' Day said. ''I'd give myself a seven or eight out of 10.''

    Defending champion Jordan Spieth, attempting to win the Australian Open for the third time in four years, was off to a poor start among the afternoon players, bogeying his first two holes.

    The Sydney-born Davis played most of this season on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada and will attempt to secure his Web.com card in the final round of qualifying from Dec. 7-10 in Chandler, Arizona.

    ''Everything went to plan,'' Davis said. ''I got off to a great start. I was hitting my spots and was able to keep it together on the back nine.''

    NOTES: Australian Brad Shilton had the first ace of the tournament, using a 5-iron for a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole, his second hole of the day. Australian veteran Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open winner, shot 69. He and Rod Pampling (68) played the first round with Day.

    Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

    Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

    Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

    "He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

    The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

    Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

    "I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

    Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

    "From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

    "And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

    "There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."