SAN MARTIN, Calif. – Two men received the most media attention Thursday at the Frys.com Open, but it’s not likely you’ll read much of their press.
Ryo Ishikawa and Hideki Matsuyama shot 2-under 69 and 1-under 70, respectively, in Round 1 at CordeValle Golf Club to sit five and six shots off the lead.
Their scores, however, were inconsequential to their coverage. Nineteen international media members are credentialed for this week’s PGA Tour 2013-14 season opener. And they’re all here for these two men.
One just gets a little more recognition than the other.
When Matsuyama teed off on No. 1 at 12:30 p.m. PT Thursday, the full Japanese media force bore witness. When Ishikawa went off the same hole 40 minutes later, that number was cut by two-thirds. Most had moved on with Matsuyama.
“Until last year, there was just one player for Japanese media to cover. Now we have two,” said Sonoko Funakoshi, a writer for Jiji Press, a Japanese wire service, much like The Associated Press and Reuters.
“Results wise, Matsuyama has performed better (recently) so he is getting more exposure. If the results change, then Ishikawa will receive more attention.”
Matsuyama exploded into the global golf conscience this year, winning three times on the Japan Golf Tour, finishing T-10 at the U.S. Open and T-6 at the British Open, and making the International Presidents Cup team.
He is a first-year PGA Tour member thanks to earning enough money off the non-exempt list last season.
Ishikawa, meanwhile, had to go to Web.com Tour Finals to regain his Tour card.
The two men grew up playing golf together. Ishikawa is now 22, Matsuyama 21. The former won a Japan Golf Tour event as a 15-year-old amateur. He turned professional at 16 and has claimed 10 Japan Golf Tour titles to date, most notably The Crowns in 2010, when he closed in 58.
Matsuyama also won a Japan Golf Tour event as an amateur, but he didn’t turn pro until April of this year. In fact, he still attends college, at Tohoku Fukushi University in Sendai, and is slated to graduate in March.
Different paths, different men.
“He is very physical, very powerful, much bigger than me,” Ishikawa said.
“I like to speak and communicate. He is a very quiet man. He doesn’t speak a lot. But he is a more aggressive player than me.”
When asked to compare their games and personalities, Matsuyama thought hard. “It’s very difficult,” he said through a translator, before pausing to figure out how best to address the question without giving a direct answer. “Ryo’s a great player. He’s great with media and everything and obviously I’m just starting out now so I’m trying to do my best.”
Their differences are apparent in their words. They are visible in their demeanor and in their appearance.
Matsuyama wore a black-and-gray sweater vest, solid gray pants and basic black-and-white shoes Thursday. Ishikawa wore a navy, red, gray and tan sweater with a zig-zag pattern that resembled ‘80s art; white pants with subtle pinstripes and black-and-white shoes that looked like he was headed for a night on the town not a day on the course.
“Ishikawa has more of the star quality. He engages,” Funakoshi said. “Matsuyama is a golfer. Just golf.”
At which he is very good, better than Ishikawa, at the moment. But, in terms of star power, Matsuyama can’t match Ishikawa in his prime.
“Matsuyama is big among golfers (in Japan). For tennis (fans), no. For other sports, no. Ishikawa is big with all,” Funakoshi said. “The past Ishikawa is bigger than the current Matsuyama. But the current Matsuyama is bigger than the current Ishikawa.”
The last part of that statement was evident Thursday.
The ninth and 12th holes at CordeValle share a bridge that leads to their respective followings. As Ishikawa crossed after finishing his front nine, he carried with him three media members. Matsuyama’s haul headed to No. 13, just a few minutes later, was five times greater. When he putted out on the 13th, 89 people watched or worked around the green. It wasn't Tigeresque, but it was about as large a gathering as you'll see here over the first two days.
Matsuyama drew major champions Davis Love III and Mike Wier over the first two rounds. Ishikawa got Bud Cauley and Jamie Lovemark. The same people who interviewed Matsuyama after his round interviewed Ishikawa following his. The difference was, they witnessed most of Matsuyama's play.
Nineteen credentialed international media members is a healthy number for a regular Tour event, says Funakoshi, who has been covering the PGA Tour since 1993. She says there were 40-50 journalists covering Matsuyama at Merion, but there were well over 100 following Ishikawa when he came Stateside in 2009. Ishikawa doesn't miss those days.
“This is much better. I enjoy it,' he said. “I can go shopping now.'
Matsuyama doesn't seem to mind the increased attention. “There may be a lot more media than some other players but I know all of the media guys here,' he said. 'They’re all my friends; we get along. Nothing that’s uncomfortable for me.'
Ishikawa shows no signs of jealousy. He seems genuinely happy for Matsuyama’s success. As both are now playing more events together in the U.S., a bond has strengthened more than a rivalry.
“Since the PGA Championship, we play practice rounds every week. We go out to dinner,” Ishikawa said, of which they did both this week. “He gave me great advice on my short game. I have been struggling with my putter and he has helped me.
“We are more friends than rivals.”