DORAL, Fla. – Yuta Ikeda marched across the Blue Monster Friday morning with uncertain steps and a mind 6,000 miles away during the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
That’s how far Doral is from Sendai, the devastated city near the epicenter of the worst earthquake to hit Japan in 100 years.
Ikeda went to college in Sendai, at Tohoku Fukushi University.
Ikeda still has close friends there, but he teed it up early Friday morning to finish the suspended first round not knowing how the devastation has affected them.
So he played scared on the Blue Monster, not frightened of the golf course, but frightened for all those friends he’s yet to hear from.
That's why Ikeda looked so upset as he marched briskly out of the scoring room at Doral. His 2-over-par 74 didn’t matter so much. He was in a hurry to get back to his room to check on the welfare of dear friends.
Ikeda waved off an interview request on his way to his room before the second round began.
“He’s too upset to speak,” said Robert Turner, part of Ikeda’s management team. “He’s really upset, and he doesn’t want to speak until he knows more about what’s going on. He’s really worried about his friends.”
Ikeda grew up in Chiba, about 200 miles from Sendai. That’s where a massive fire ignited at an oil factory when the quake hit. His mother and grandparents still live there.
Asleep in his room following the suspended first round of the Cadillac Championship, Ikeda received an e-mail from a friend at 3 in the morning. That's how he learned about the earthquake. He spent the rest of the night trying to reach friends and learn more about the devastation.
After the second round, Ikeda said he's still unsure how friends in Sendai are doing.
'The cell phones are not working in Japan,' he said. 'I made many calls but haven't been able to make contact.
'To see what you see on TV is very difficult to take.'
It's also difficult for Japanese media at Doral covering the tournament.
“I can’t even get a phone call through to my office in Tokyo,” said Reiko Takekawa, a golf writer for the Kyodo News covering the Cadillac Championship. “We have people who can’t get to the office in Tokyo. The transportation system there is shut down.”
Takekawa is among a contingent of about 40 Japanese reporters and photographers at Doral. With Japanese superstar Ryo Ishikawa in the field, there’s intense interest in the Cadillac Championship back in Japan. Or, at least there was. The earthquake makes the tournament less important, even among the Japanese golf writers, with images of the destruction in Japan being broadcast on the giant TV screen on the Doral media room scoreboard.
Takekawa said the Japanese media contingent believes all their loved ones are safe.
“We’re concerned, for the people, immediately, and also what this will mean later, how it affects the country,” Takekawa said. “The economy is bad, what effect will this have?”
Ishikawa kept the Japan media busy with a terrific first round. His 7-under-par 65 left him one shot behind the leader, Hunter Mahan.
Ishikawa’s parents are back in Tokyo, and he reported after his round that they’re fine.
Through the first round’s conclusion, Ishikawa said his mind wandered to thoughts of Japan.
“It is not possible to block something of this magnitude out completely,” Ishikawa said. “But I understand that in the position that I am, together with the other star athletes from Japan and other sporting areas, we can provide encouragement and hope for the people of Japan by doing the job.”
With so many terrible images dominating the news, with disturbing details coming out every new hour that passes, it will rank among the remarkable victories in Japanese golf history if Ishikawa manages to break through to win his first PGA Tour event at Doral.
Ishikawa’s sure to have growing support among fans of all nationalities who are riveted as much to world news as to golf at Doral this week.