Ishikawa right at home on world's stage

10/10/2009 - Golf Ryo Ishikawa

SAN FRANCISCO -- Ryo Ishikawa must hear the click of cameras in his sleep.

Even when the shutters are not screaming in his ears, the feeling that the noise will pierce the air at any moment is always there.

It lurks around doglegs and in parking lots and on practice tees. In Japan, it could be on a sidewalk, in a department store, at the airport.

The guy might not be Tiger Woods' equal on the golf course, but he certainly can relate to the game's No. 1 player when it comes to unrelenting attention.

Ishikawa, who turned 18 on Sept. 17, is the youngest player ever to compete in the Presidents Cup. He played in the Masters, British Open and PGA Championship this year. He has won four times this year on the Japan Tour, including this past Sunday.

And the Japanese media are there to chronicle every step in the journey.

More than 80 credentialed media from Japan are at the Presidents Cup, more than half of them photographers. And there is nothing quite like the awe of the gallery as all those media folks come trudging along the ropes, following Ishikawa.

On Friday, he rewarded their never-ending pursuit of him with one of his best efforts on the international stage. Ishikawa has mostly struggled in his PGA Tour events, but he made two birdies and helped partner Y.E. Yang easily defeat Americans Kenny Perry and Sean O'Hair 4 and 3 in their four-ball match.

"I am very happy to help get one point for captain [Greg] Norman," Ishikawa said through an interpreter. "That point is very precious. I felt much better today about the way I played. My body felt looser. I was quite nervous yesterday."

And that is understandable. Ishikawa was paired with Geoff Ogilvy on Thursday and going up against Woods and Steve Stricker, who handled them easily in foursomes, 6 and 4.

Friday was a different story, and the Ishikawa-Yang pairing helped the International squad split the six matches and trail by just a point, 6½ to 5½, heading into Saturday's double session. The two will be paired again in the Saturday morning foursomes.

"He's young, but he definitely doesn't play young," Yang said. "I told him on the first tee that we should have fun and we did have fun, and we had a win as well. He's been a great teammate."

Ishikawa already has an impressive résumé for someone so young. On Sunday, he birdied the final two holes at the Coca-Cola Tokai Classic in Japan to win by 1 stroke, the sixth Japan Tour title of his career.

Two years ago when he won the KSB Cup as a a5-year-old amateur, he became the youngest winner in Japan Tour history. He finished fifth on the circuit's money list in his rookie season last year and has risen to 43rd in the Official World Golf Ranking. If he can stay inside the top 50 to the end of the year, he'll be exempt for all the major championships next year.

O'Hair, 27, knows a thing or two about turning pro as a teenager. He did so at age 18 right out of high school and has since won three times on the PGA Tour.

Considered one of America's top young players, O'Hair is nine years older than Ishikawa and chuckled at that thought.

"I can imagine what he's going through," O'Hair said. "I think it's going to be interesting to see how he plays over here [on the PGA Tour]. I think people are expecting a little bit too much out of him. He's going to develop on the PGA Tour, and it's not the easiest place to develop.

"I think the experience will be great for him, but I don't see him winning a golf tournament right away. He's a good player, and if he doesn't get burned out and get tired of all the crap -- which I don't see happening -- hopefully he's managed properly.

"I'm not sure he's Tiger at 18. But he's just behind Tiger at that age. And that's saying a lot."

Norman made Ishikawa -- along with Australia's Adam Scott -- one of his captain's selections. And he said the choice was easy.

"This kid has got a lot of the right qualities that you see," Norman said. "I secretly went and watched him practice at the British Open this year at Turnberry. I snuck in behind the gallery and I just stood there and he didn't know I was standing there, just to watch him, where the club was at the top.

"And I always like to see a guy, how he works on the driving range. If he's into it on the driving range, you know he's going to take that energy out onto the golf course. And he was so focused hitting balls, I was extremely impressed, for a young guy, because a lot of things happen on the driving range at the British Open. There's a lot of activity, a lot of cameras, a lot of people, and he was into his game. Technically, he looks great.

"And then he started winning. … So he really stepped up to the plate. His English is excellent. He's very engaging with everybody, and he wants to be included in everything. For a kid of his young age, he's got heaps of maturity about him. So I look forward to him just go out there and just play golf and just have fun."

Ishikawa drives to many tournaments in Japan, somewhat to avoid the crush of attention that he gets even in an airport but also to clear his head. (Actually, his father, Katsumi, does the driving because Ryo is not yet licensed to drive; he will take care of that in the offseason.)

Yet he hardly seems frustrated by all the attention.

"I've never thought that's very difficult for me," he said. "Obviously, because of the media, golf gets covered, and the popularity of golf will increase because of the media. I would like to continue this good relationship that the media and I have, and hopefully it will be a long relationship."

Now that is youth for you.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.