Ishikawa’s presence on a golf course, particularly at a serious championship, as soon as would have drawn hordes of media members — most, however not all, Japanese. He was going to be the Japanese star to eclipse the likes of Isao Aoki and Masashi “Jumbo” Osaki and at last win a serious championship. As an alternative, Thursday will mark his first look in a serious since 2015, when he performed within the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay and missed the minimize.
Ten years in the past at Pebble Seaside, the U.S. Golf Affiliation, which likes to create quirky threesomes on the primary two days of the Open, paired Ishikawa, then 18, with 21-year-old Rory McIlroy and 60-year-old Tom Watson. To say the grouping drew a crowd inside and out of doors the ropes is like saying Watson had a fairly good profession.
I walked with the group throughout Friday’s second spherical, pondering it is perhaps Watson’s final in a U.S. Open. Plus, the notion of Watson taking part in the golf course the place he had gained his solely Open with two rising stars whose mixed age was 21 years youthful than his had a romantic ingredient that made the stroll on a good looking morning unimaginable to withstand.
Ishikawa was by then a star in Japan. He had gained on the Japanese tour as an novice at 15 and was the Japanese tour’s main cash winner in 2009 — the yr he turned 18. His fourth win that yr, shortly after his birthday in September, made him the youngest participant in historical past to crack the highest 50 within the Official World Golf Rankings.
He was nonetheless on the rise when he bought to Pebble Seaside. In Thursday’s first spherical, he shot a 1-under-par 70, which put him on the chief board, one shot behind the three leaders who shot 69s. McIlroy shot a 75 the primary day and Watson a 78.
Followers have been in every single place Friday, jamming towards the ropes to see the three gamers. Contained in the ropes, the battle for area amongst these with media credentials was nearly as intense because the golf. Some got here to see Watson, some McIroy and lots of to see Ishikawa.
Wearing bubble-gum pink, Ishikawa dissatisfied nobody, capturing an even-par 71. Watson additionally shot a 71 to make the minimize. McIlroy shot a 77 and went residence. Ishikawa although, was the star that day.
“He certain doesn’t behave like he’s 18,” Watson stated. “He’s remarkably mature in the best way he performs and in the best way he handles all this.” Watson paused to wave a hand on the media swarming Ishikawa behind the 18th inexperienced and smiled. “I’d prefer to have his future.”
Ishikawa did his post-round podium interview in English. Once I was capable of get a couple of minutes with him, I introduced a Japanese colleague to interpret, figuring he could be extra comfy. Ishikawa shook his head and stated: “No, I’d somewhat communicate in English. I would like the follow.”
Not surprisingly, he dropped again on the weekend, slipping from a tie for second on Friday (with a bunch that included Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els) to a tie for 33rd on Sunday night. By yr’s finish, although, he was ranked 30th on this planet. Shortly after the devastating Tohoku earthquake in March 2011, he introduced he was going to donate all his earnings for the remainder of the yr to aid efforts. In 2012 — nonetheless solely 21 — he completed second in Puerto Rico to earn full-time standing on the PGA Tour, and he continued to play solidly via 2015.
However he didn’t win, and his highest end in 20 main begins was a tie for 20th on the Masters in 2011. Then, in 2016, he suffered a again harm that restricted him to 6 PGA Tour begins that yr. The previous two years, he has returned to taking part in nearly solely in Japan. Within the meantime, Hideki Matsuyama — 5 months youthful than Ishikawa — has far surpassed him on the world stage, profitable 5 instances on the PGA Tour and ending tied for second on the 2017 U.S. Open, which vaulted him to No. 2 on this planet rankings, the best ever for a Japanese participant.
Ishikawa is taking part in at Harding Park this week as a result of the PGA issued him a “particular invitation” after he had three wins in Japan final yr to leap again into the highest 100 on this planet rankings. (He completed the yr at No. 80 and is currently 97th.) Now, although, he’s only a blip on the golf radar, somebody who most will say might need been.
Ishikawa has gained 17 instances in Japan, a far cry from Ozaki’s 94 wins on the Japanese tour. Ozaki was an enormous star in Japan however by no means actually made a dent in america. He performed in 49 majors and had three high 10s — one of the best a tie for sixth — and by no means completed larger than tied for fourth in a PGA Tour occasion.
Even so, he was voted into the World Golf Corridor of Fame in 2011 — Aoki, who completed second to Jack Nicklaus within the 1980 U.S. Open and gained on each the PGA Tour and senior tour, was voted in seven years earlier — and made hundreds of thousands as a Japanese star. The saying about him amongst gamers was, “Nothing that isn’t silk ever touches that man’s physique.”
The query now for Ishikawa, who gained’t flip 29 till subsequent month, is that this: Does he develop into Ozaki, a really wealthy man who does little outdoors Japan, or does he rebuild his profession and grow to be the worldwide champion he appeared able to changing into 10 years in the past? Many golfers don’t peak till their 30s, however few who emerge post-30 have been millionaires as youngsters.
The Ishikawa I spoke to that day at Pebble Seaside clearly had his coronary heart set on changing into Japan’s first true golf famous person. Whether or not that’s the Ishikawa who tees it up Thursday at Harding Park is a unique however fascinating query.