Former Rolex world No. 1 Ai Miyazato will announce in a news conference Monday that she will retire at the end of this season, the Kyodo news service reported.
Miyazato, 31, is a nine-time LPGA winner who reigned as world No. 1 for 12 weeks in 2010.
“I’m kind of sad,” said Stacy Lewis, an 11-time LPGA winner. “Ai’s a good friend, but I’m excited for her. I’m sure there are a lot of opportunities at home for her to continue growing the game. I’m excited for her, but also sad that she won’t be out here week to week.”
Miyazato is a superstar in her native Japan. She was so immensely popular as a rising young star, she said she had to wear a disguise in public to avoid being swarmed by fans. She was credited with reviving the Japan LPGA Tour as World Golf Hall of Famer Ayako Okamoto’s career wound to an end.
As a teenager in high school, Miyazato burst into the international spotlight, becoming the first amateur to win a JLPGA event in 30 years. A year later, she won five times as a JLPGA rookie. She joined the American-based LPGA in 2006, with a large Japanese media contingent traveling wherever she played to document her efforts. She claimed her first LPGA title in ’09, winning the Evian Championship. Miyazato won five times the following year, fueling her run to No. 1.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Lewis said of Miyazato’s influence on Japanese women’s golf. “She really opened the door for Japanese players to come over and play well and show them what it would take. Really, when nobody else was doing it, she came over and played and was a great ambassador for our tour.”
Over the last few years, Miyazato has battled injuries and surprising putting woes, as she was once regarded as one of the best putter’s in the women’s game. She ranked first in putting in the LPGA in 2010. She also has acknowledged struggling with motivation as she has dropped to No. 115 in the Rolex world rankings.
Miyazato’s third-place finish at the Kia Classic last year is her only top-10 finish in her last 77 starts.
“It kind of became one thing after another,” Vision 54 coach Lynn Marriott told GolfChannel.com a week after the Kia finish last year. “And as we’ve seen with so many No. 1s, where they’ve reached that goal, there’s the motivation you need to keep going. She had to re-evaluate. She had to figure that out.”