Ryo Ishikawa: Of Milestone Birthdays and Growing Pains

お誕生日おめでとうございます 石川 遼

Ryo Ishikawa, the Japanese teen we've been watching for almost five years is turning twenty.

When he first caught our attention almost five years ago. It was the summer of 2007 and "The Bashful Prince" was a newly minted fifteen-year-old pop culture icon,  having recently become the youngest winner ever of a men's tournament on the Japan Tour.

With a whimsical nickname and a disarming smile, he soon made his way to the international stage, turning professional in 2008,  and by the end of that year becoming the youngest player ever to reach the top 100 of the Official World Golf Rankings.  US golf fans discovered the young phenom in 2009 when he played in PGA Tour tournaments for the first time.

A series of impressive achievements followed as Ryo made his way to the top of the global "Promising Young Guns" shortlist.  It sometimes seemed like nothing could go wrong this precocious trajectory to the top... but... it was sort of inevitable there'd be some growing pains somewhere along the way.

Early this week I heard from friends in Japan that Ryo had been fined nearly $30,000 for missing two recent Japan Tour events.  A shoulder injury... backed up by a note from his physician... was the reason for Ryo's withdrawals, but that didn't sway the powers-that-be at the Japan Tour...  nor did the golf star's commitment to donate all of his 2011 income to the Japan's earthquake relief fund.  Then, just today at the ANA Open in Sapporo,  Ryo missed the cut in his final round as a teenager.  The star was a bit wistful when asked to comment on his upcoming birthday"Lonely birthday - I had planned to play this weekend".  And so go the growing pains for a very young player who has risen mercurially in world golf.

It's quite clear that Ryo is eager to compete with the top ranked players in the world, declaring recently that he "hoped to become a player who has the option of playing on the U.S. tour" at the same time he's become such a huge star in Japan that he's often seen as having single-handedly increased Japanese participation in the game... and vital to its continued growth.  One can only imagine the newly-minted-twenty-year-old is feeling the pressure of the weighty decisions that lie ahead,  however he's always shown remarkable thoughtfulness and maturity.  Despite the pressure and a few metaphorical speed bumps on his road to the top, there's little doubt among fans and followers of the game Ryo's rapid rise will continue.   お誕生日おめでとうございます 石川 遼

Thanks go to Noriko, a fellow Ryo fan from Japan who always keeps me informed.