Golf: Ryo Ishikawa 石川 遼
A boy playing among men, Ryo Ishikawa took Japanese golf by storm with his rapid rise up the ranks. He went on to wow the rest of the world, not only with his youth and winning smile, but his cool and composure under pressure, as well.
Teen Most Valuable Player
By 2009, at the tender age of 18, when many others are only beginning to think about a pro career, Ishikawa had already won a money title on the Japanese Golf Tourrun by the Japan Golf Tour Association (JTGO) and competed in all four majors (The Masters, U.S. Open, Open Championship and PGA Championship) on the PGA Tour.
Twice named Most Valuable Player in Japanese professional sports (2008 and 2009) Ishikawa captured the minds of many when he embarked on a pro career at such a young age.
Also known by the moniker "Hanikami Oji," which translates into The Bashful Prince, Ishikawa first made waves by winning the Musingwear Open KSB Cup as a 15-year-old amateur in May of 2007.
Ishikawa opened the tournament with a 72, then rose rounds of 69, 69 and 66 to top Katsumasa Miyamoto by one stroke.
That victory made him the youngest winner on the men's top-tier professional circuit in the world, and just like that a star was born.
Armed with a JTGO exemption as result of the victory (an exemption which lasted through to 2009), an emboldened Ishikawa competed in seven more tournaments that year, afterwards making the decision to turn pro.
Ishikawa made things official in January of 2008, becoming the youngest pro golfer in Japanese history at 16 years and three months old.
His first order of business as a professional was to try and qualify for the 2009 British Open and he made his pro debut at a 36-hole Australasian qualifying tournament in Sydney, Australia.
He fell short of his goal, however, missing out by nine shots after shooting rounds of 72 and 78.
Ishikawa made his domestic debut in March of that year, at the Token Homemate Cup, where he finished tied for fifth. Ishikawa won once on the Japanese Golf Tour that season, finishing first at the mynavi ABC Championship, and carded seven top-5 finishes.
After getting his feet wet in 2008, the young star set Japanese golf ablaze with an impressive 2009 campaign.
His first win was a wire-to-wire victory at the Sun Chlorella Classic, and he went on to collect three more titles during the year. In addition to the four victories, Ishikawa finished in the top four on four other occasions.
The season also saw the Japanese star make his debut on the PGA Tour, drawing exemptions into five tournaments, including the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championship. Ishikawa also played in the Presidents Cup and WGC HSBC Champions tournaments.
At 17-years-old, he was the youngest player ever selected to play in the Presidents Cup, an international competition between a U.S. team and an international team consisting of players from around the world, excluding Europe. Selected to the team by captain and golfing superstar Greg Norman, Ishikawa was the first Japanese player to be selected since 2000.
Additionally Ishikawa competed in the British Open after qualifying by virtue of a victory in the Mizuno Open on June 28.
Ishikawa missed the cut in his first tournament in the U.S., the 2009 Northern Trust Open. He then finished 71st at the Transistions Championship, carding rounds of 69,73,75,76 for a overall 293, nine over par.
He missed the next three cuts in the U.S., lasting two rounds at the 2009 Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Masters, and British Open. Ishikawa later made his first cut at a U.S. major at the 2009 PGA Championship, finishing tied for 56th.
While his score at the British Open was a disappointment, he lived out one of his dreams by being paired with world No. 1 Tiger Woods. Ishikawa has described Woods as one of his golf idols and makes it his goal to one day surpass the American golfer.
Despite his struggles abroad, the domestic campaign was a resounding success for the young golfer.
Ishikawa made Japanese golf history by becoming the youngest-ever player to win the money title and was named the JTGO MVP for the 2009 season. Ishikawa also enjoyed a record-setting season-ending award haul, being honored in nine different categories.
"It's an honor to receive so many awards," Ishikawa told Kyodo News on December 8, 2009, "It's been a dynamic year."
He clinched the money title at the Nippon Series JT Cup after a 19th place finish was good enough to hold off 2009 Rookie of the Year Yuta Ikeda on the money list.
That triumph pushed Ishikawa past Masashi "Jumbo" Ozaki in the record books. Ozaki, who won his first money title in 1973 at age 26, was the previous youngest money winner in Japan.
Ishikawa also climbed to 29th in the world rankings in 2009, a personal-best for the young star. He ended the year at 30th, good enough to earn himself a spot in the 2010 Masters. Unfortunately Ishikawa's second turn at Augusta National, ended much like his first, with him missing the cut.
His popularity is seen as a good thing for golf in Japan, with supporters of the sport hoping Ishikawa can revive its sagging popularity as Tiger Woods did for the PGA Tour in the U.S. In 2010 he was elected as a vice chairman of the JTGO.