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Ishikawa speaks of struggles heading into U.S. Open

TOKYO – Ryo Ishikawa has displayed a level of maturity beyond his years in handling success. Now the 19-year-old Japanese golfer is showing he can take the disappointments with the same cool composure.

Ishikawa won three times on the Japan Tour last season and has nine wins overall at home but has struggled this season with no wins. He failed to make the cut in his last two tournaments, including the Japan Golf Tour Championship where he carded the worst score of his professional career – a 12-over 83 in the first round.

When asked of his recent struggles, Ishikawa had a quick response.

“I knew that question was coming,” Ishikawa said on Tuesday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. “It would be strange if it wasn’t asked.”

Ishikawa has an exemption for the U.S. Open, which starts on June 16 in Washington, and hopes to get his game straightened out by then.

“Most of the problems stem from my putting and short game,” Ishikawa said. “There is no tournament this week so I’ll have some good practice and hopefully I can put these past two tournaments behind me.”

Ishikawa also missed the cut at the Transitions Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational but his problems seem minor compared to those of his idol Tiger Woods. Woods withdrew after only nine holes last month at The Players Championship and fell out of the top 10 rankings for the first time in 14 years.

Ishikawa said it was difficult to watch Woods struggle with his game.

“I’ve always looked at him from the perspective of a fan,” Ishikawa said. “It’s difficult for me to take this news as another player. I sure hope he recovers. I’ve always been awed by his ability and skill.”

Known earlier in his career as “Bashful Prince,” Ishikawa has become the face of golf in Japan. He played 34 times last year, including one span of 20 tournaments in 22 weeks, because the tour and sponsors lean so heavily on him.

He won his first Japan Tour event as a 15-year-old amateur, won the money title at 17, and last year became the first player to shoot 58 on a major tour.

He announced in March that he will be donating all of his 2011 tour earnings, plus an additional $1,200 for every birdie he makes during the year, to the Japan earthquake relief efforts.

Ishikawa was playing in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral on March 11 when he awoke to news of the earthquake and tsunami.

“I want to do anything I can to help,” Ishikawa said. “I visited an evacuee center and will make another trip up to the region in July.”

No Japanese golfer has ever won a major. Ishikawa has said his dream is to win The Masters, and some in Japan feel he should play more on the PGA Tour to improve his game.

“At the moment, I don’t feel a great urgency to go the U.S. permanently,” Ishikawa said. “Just because a player stays in Japan doesn’t mean he can’t win a major.”