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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    Davies wins by 10 on 'best ball-striking round'

    By Associated PressJuly 16, 2018, 1:53 am

    WHEATON, Ill. - Laura Davies immediately recognized the significance of having her name inscribed on the first U.S. Senior Women's Open trophy.

    It might be a long time before anyone secures the title as emphatically as Davies did.

    Davies went virtually unchallenged in Sunday's final round of the inaugural USGA championship for women 50 and older, claiming the title by 10 strokes over Juli Inkster.

    ''It's great seeing this (trophy) paraded down for the very first time and I get my name on it first, you know?'' Davies said. ''This championship will be played for many years and there will only be one first winner - obviously a proud moment for me to win that.''

    The 54-year-old Davies shot a 5-under 68 to finish at 16-under 276 at Chicago Golf Club.

    It was the English player's 85th career win, and she felt the pressure even though her lead was rarely in danger.

    ''I haven't won for eight years - my last win was India, 2010,'' Davies said. ''So that's the pressure you're playing under, when you're trying to do something for yourself, prove to yourself you can still win.

    ''So this ranks highly up there. And obviously it's a USGA event. It's hard comparing tournaments, but this is very high on my list of achievements.''

    A 7-under 66 Saturday provided Davies with a five-shot lead over Inkster and what she said would be a sleepless night worrying about the pressure.


    Full-field scores from the U.S. Senior Women’s Open


    The World Golf Hall of Famer widened her advantage early Sunday when she birdied the par-5 second hole and Inkster made bogey. Davies said a par she salvaged at the 10th was another turning point.

    ''It wasn't the greatest hole I ever played, but I think that, to me, was when I really started to think I might have one hand on the trophy and just had to get the other one in there.''

    Inkster shot an even-par 73. England's Trish Johnson also shot 73 to finish third, 12 shots back.

    ''I mean, she was absolutely spectacular this week,'' Johnson said about Davies. ''I've played against her for 35 years. Yesterday was the best I have ever seen her play in her entire career.

    ''She just said walking down 18 it was best ball-striking round she ever had. Considering she's won 85 tournaments, that's quite some feat.''

    Danielle Ammaccapane was fourth and Yuko Saito finished fifth. Martha Leach was the top amateur, tying for 10th at 6-over 298.

    Davies plans to play in the Women's British Open next month, and called this win a confidence-booster as she continues to compete against the younger generation. She finished tied for second at the LPGA's Bank of Hope Founders Cup earlier this year.

    ''You build up a little bit of momentum, and a golf course is a golf course,'' Davies said. ''Sometimes the field strength is a little bit different, but in your own mind if you've done something like this, 16 under for four rounds around a proper championship course, it can't do anything but fill you full of confidence.''

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    Romo rallies to win American Century Championship

    By Associated PressJuly 16, 2018, 12:42 am

    SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Nev. - Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo rallied from four points back to win his first American Century Championship at Lake Tahoe on Sunday.

    Romo, who retired after the 2016 NFL season and is now an NFL analyst, had 27 points on the day to beat three-time defending champion Mark Mulder and San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, the the leader after the first two rounds.

    ''It's a special win,'' said Romo, who had finished second three times in seven previous trips to the annual celebrity golf tournament at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. ''It feels like you're playing a tournament back home here. The day felt good for a lot of reasons.''

    Romo tapped in for par, worth one point, on the 18th hole to finish with 71 points, three ahead of Mulder, the former major league pitcher. He then caught a flight to Berlin, Wis., where he was to compete in a 36-hole U.S. Amateur qualifying tournament on Monday.

    The American Century Championship uses a modified Stableford scoring system which rewards points for eagles (six), birdies (three) and pars (one) and deducts points (two) for double bogeys or worse. Bogeys are worth zero points.

    Pavelski had a 7-foot eagle putt on the par-5 18th that could have tied Romo, but it slid by. He finished with 66 points, tied for third with Ray Allen, who will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Sept. 7.


    Full-field scores from the American Century Championship


    ''It feels like nothing went in for me today,'' Pavelski said. ''But I couldn't ask for more than to have that putt to tie on the last hole.''

    Romo plays as an amateur, so his $125,000 first-place check from the $600,000 purse will go to local charities and the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, the primary charitable arm of title sponsor American Century Investments.

    Rounding out the top five were Trent Dilfer, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback with the Baltimore Ravens in 2001, and former tennis player Mardy Fish. Each had 62 points.

    Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry, who fell out of contention with a mediocre round Saturday, jumped into Lake Tahoe amidst much fanfare after losing a bet to his father, Dell. The elder Curry jumped into the lake last year, so he negotiated a 20-point handicap and won by two points.

    Other notable players in the 92-player field included John Smoltz, the MLB hall of Fame pitcher who two weeks ago competed in the U.S. Senior Open and finished 10th here with 53 points; Steph Curry, who finished tied for 11th with retired Marine and wounded war hero Andrew Bachelder (50); actor Jack Wagner (16th, 47 points); Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (tied for 18th, 44 points); actor Ray Romano (tied for 71st, minus-26 points); comedian Larry the Cable Guy (tied for 77th, minus-33 points); and former NBA great Charles Barkley, who finished alone in last with minus-93 points.

    The tournament drew 57,097 fans for the week, setting an attendance record for the fourth straight year.

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    Singh tops Maggert in playoff for first senior major

    By Associated PressJuly 16, 2018, 12:10 am

    HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. - Vijay Singh birdied the second playoff hole to beat Jeff Maggert and win the Constellation Senior Players Championship on Sunday.

    Singh knocked in a putt from about 2 feet after a nearly perfect approach on the 18th hole at Exmoor Country Club, giving an understated fist pump as the ball fell in. That gave him his first major title on the PGA Tour Champions to go with victories at the Masters and two PGA Championships.

    Singh (67) and Maggert (68) finished at 20-under 268. Brandt Jobe (66) was two strokes behind, while Jerry Kelly (64) and defending champion Scott McCarron (71) finished at 17 under.

    Maggert had chances to win in regulation and on the first playoff hole.

    He bogeyed the par-4 16th to fall into a tie with Singh at 20 under and missed potential winning birdie putts at the end of regulation and on the first playoff hole.

    His 15-footer on the 72nd hole rolled wide, forcing the playoff, and a downhill 12-footer on the same green went just past the edge.


    Full-field scores from the Constellation Energy Senior Players


    The 55-year-old Singh made some neat par saves to get into the playoff.

    His tee shot on 17 landed near the trees to the right of the fairway, and his approach on 18 wound up in a bunker. But the big Fijian blasted to within a few feet to match Maggert's par.

    McCarron - tied with Maggert and Bart Bryant for the lead through three rounds - was trying to join Arnold Palmer and Bernhard Langer as the only back-to-back winners of this major. He came back from a six-shot deficit to win at Caves Valley near Baltimore last year and got off to a good start on Sunday.

    He birdied the first two holes to reach 18 under. But bogeys on the par-4 seventh and ninth holes knocked him off the lead. His tee shot on No. 7 rolled into a hole at the base of a tree and forced him to take an unplayable lie.

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    Davies a fitting winner of inaugural USGA championship

    By Randall MellJuly 15, 2018, 11:26 pm

    Laura Davies confessed she did not sleep well on a five-shot lead Saturday night at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.

    It’s all you needed to know about what this inaugural event meant to the women who were part of the history being made at Chicago Golf Club.

    The week was more than a parade of memories the game’s greats created playing in the USGA’s long-awaited showcase for women ages 50 and beyond.

    The week was more than nostalgic. 

    It was a chance to make another meaningful mark on the game.

    In the end, Davies relished seeing the mark she made in her runaway, 10-shot victory. She could see it in the familiar etchings on the trophy she hoisted.

    “I get my name on it first,” Davies said. “This championship will be played for many years, and there will only be one first winner. Obviously, quite a proud moment for me to win that.”

    Really, all 120 players in the field made their marks at Chicago Golf Club. They were all pioneers of sorts this past week.

    “It was very emotional seeing the USGA signs, because I've had such a long history, since my teens, playing in USGA championships,” said Amy Alcott, whose Hall of Fame career included the 1980 U.S. Women’s Open title. “I thought the week just came off beautifully. The USGA did a great job. It was just so classy how everything was done, this inaugural event, and how was it presented.”

    Davies was thankful for what the USGA added to the women’s game, and she wasn’t alone. Gratefulness was the theme of the week.


    Full-field scores from the U.S. Senior Women’s Open


    The men have been competing in the U.S. Senior Open since 1980, and now the women have their equal opportunity to do the same.

    “It was just great to be a part of the first,” three-time U.S. Women’s Open winner Hollis Stacy said. “The USGA did a great job of having it at such a great golf course. It's just been very memorable.”

    Trish Johnson, who is English, like Davies, finished third, 12 shots back, but she left with a heart overflowing.

    “Magnificent,” said Johnson, a three-time LPGA and 19-time LET winner. “Honestly, it's one of the best, most enjoyable weeks I've ever played in in any tournament anywhere.”

    She played in the final group with Davies and runner-up Juli Inkster.

    “Even this morning, just waiting to come out here, I thought, `God, not often do I actually think how lucky I am to do what I do,’” Johnson said.

    At 54, Davies still plays the LPGA and LET regularly. She has now won 85 titles around the world, 20 of them LPGA titles, four of them majors, 45 of them LET titles.

    With every swing this past week, she peeled back the years, turned back the clock, made fans and peers remember what she means to the women’s game.

    This wasn’t the first time Davies made her mark in a USGA event. When she won the U.S. Women’s Open in 1987, she became just the second player from Europe to win the title, the first in 20 years. She opened a new door for internationals. The following year, Sweden’s Liselotte Neumann won the title.

    “A lot of young Europeans and Asians decided that it wasn't just an American sport,” Davies said. “At that stage, it had been dominated, wholeheartedly, by all the names we all love, Lopez, Bradley, Daniel, Sheehan.”

    Davies gave the rest of the world her name to love, her path to follow.

    “It certainly made a lot of foreign girls think that they could take the Americans on,” Davies said.

    In golf, it’s long been held that you can judge the stature of an event by the names on the trophy. Davies helps gives the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open the monumental start it deserved.