'Bashful Prince' Ishikawa still has Major dream

From left: Ryo Ishikawa, Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen and Pat Perez pose for a wefie with the SMBC Singapore Open trophy at Sentosa Golf Club.
From left: Ryo Ishikawa, Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen and Pat Perez pose for a wefie with the SMBC Singapore Open trophy at Sentosa Golf Club.PHOTO: LAGARDERE SPORTS/PAUL LAKATOS

By his own admission, the last decade zipped by in a flash.

Japanese prodigy Ryo Ishikawa was once touted as Asia's answer to Tiger Woods when he burst onto the golfing scene in 2007, winning the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup at the age of 15 years and eight months to become the youngest winner of a men's regular tournament on the Japan Golf Tour Organisation (JGTO).

In 2009, the Saitama native was the youngest golfer to reach the top 50 of the world rankings.

However, a switch to the PGA Tour in the United States didn't pan out and a back injury last year set him further back, as his world ranking dropped to 227th.

His last victory came at the RIZAP KBC Augusta in 2016.

Now 26, Ishikawa, nicknamed the "Bashful Prince" for his boyish looks, is ready for a fresh start and still harbours the dream of becoming the first Japanese male golfer to win a Major title.

  • SELECTED TEE TIMES

    7.50am Prayad Marksaeng (Tha), Song Young Han (Kor)

    8am Sergio Garcia (Esp), Ryo Ishikawa (Jpn), Gavin Green (Mas)

    9.30am Kurt Kitayama (USA)

    12.30pm Choo Tze Huang (Sgp), Cameron Davis (Aus)

    12.40pm Mardan Mamat (Sgp), Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa)

    12.50pm Pat Perez (USA)

    1.40pm Quincy Quek (Sgp)

"Last year was tough, I had a back injury and needed to change my swing - everything changed," he said yesterday at Sentosa Golf Club, ahead of the US$1 million (S$1.3 million) SMBC Singapore Open which starts today.

"But I'm not disappointed with the (past) 10 years, I think it's quite successful. I won 15 tournaments, although nothing on the PGA Tour.

"That is now my biggest goal in the next 10 years - win on the PGA Tour and a Major."

Ishikawa revealed that his biggest pillar of support is his wife, whom he married two years ago.

"My wife is my biggest supporter. I really just want to win a Major for her," said Ishikawa, whose best result at a Major was a top-20 finish at the Masters in 2011.

The 1.75m Japanese will tee off in the first round at 8am this morning alongside Masters champion Sergio Garcia of Spain and 2017 Asian Tour Order of Merit winner Gavin Green of Malaysia.

And he has seen enough of the treacherous Serapong Course to know that mistakes will be punished.

"The key to win is the tee shot. You need to keep it on the fairway, because you can't attack the flag from the rough and bunkers. It's going to be tough because I don't hit very straight," he said.

He needs no extra motivation playing alongside his idol in the first two rounds.

"Sergio Garcia is my biggest hero... He's still playing so well after all these years," said Ishikawa.

A fit-again Ishikawa is all fired up to make up for lost time after an injury-blighted year.

"I won four times in 2009 in Japan, that's my record - I just want to beat myself this year," he said.

"So that means five wins."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2018, with the headline ''Bashful Prince' Ishikawa still has Major dream'. Print Edition | Subscribe