Japanese golf star Ryo Ishikawa feels he is ready for a second crack at the PGA TOUR.
A three-win campaign on the Japan Golf Tour last season – his best haul in nine years – has given him the confidence to regain his place on the world’s leading circuit which he played full-time from 2013 to 2017.
The 28-year-old, who has successfully overcome back injuries in recent years, gets a chance to kick-start his ambitions at next week’s World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship. Ishikawa, nicknamed the “Bashful Prince” in Japan for his boyish good looks, will then feature in The Honda Classic from February 27 to March 1 and he knows fully well subsequent PGA TOUR appearances will hinge largely on his form over the next fortnight.
“I want to get back to the PGA TOUR,” declared Ishikawa.
“In 2013, it was my first year there, I was in my early 20s and I was kind of a different player. I’ve grown and matured a bit more since and I’m trying to get better all the time. I miss the golf courses and the set-ups in the U.S. It’s always in great shape and always plays tough. I also miss competing against the best players in the world.”
Currently 82nd on the Official World Golf Ranking, Ishikawa is backing himself to perform in Mexico and The Honda in his bid return into the world’s top 50. If he pulls it off, he will receive exemptions into the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard and the TOUR’s flagship event, THE PLAYERS Championship in March. Breaking into the top 64 will also get him into the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin.
Hence, Ishikawa knows there is plenty at stake ahead.
“I just need to play well in the WGC (Mexico) and Honda. It’s the goal,” said Ishikawa, whose highest world ranking was 29th back in 2009, the year he won four times at home.
Ishikawa has made 147 career starts on the PGA TOUR, registering 11 top-10s and 24 top-25s. His best finishes were a pair of second-place results at the 2012 Puerto Rico Open and T2 at the 2013 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Other highlights include a T4 result at the 2011 WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational and a commendable T8 at THE PLAYERS in 2015.
He is determined to continue building on a successful 2019 season and knows he must improve his driving accuracy. While he ranked ninth in Japan in driving distance with an average of 300 yards last year, his fairways hit percentage was a mere 52 percent.
“It was a good season for me. Winning three tournaments in one season is a great result for any player. To me, I still felt it was a tough season because I struggled off the tee and had a lot of missed shots. The good news was my irons and putting have become sharper and more consistent. If I can improve my shots off the tee, I think I can continue winning this year.”
Ishikawa’s best route back onto the PGA TOUR would be via the Non-Member category, which was the path he used to earn his card in 2012. He has made two starts so far in the 2019-20 PGA TOUR Season, finishing T51 and T67 in the inaugural ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP in Japan and WGC-HSBC Champions in China during the Asian swing in October where he got into the field through the Japan Golf Tour ranking. His exemption into Mexico next week is also via his home circuit.
As much as he is desperate to return to the PGA TOUR, Ishikawa knows only too well that his road back to redemption will require lots of patience and dedication. He has been rebuilding his game and getting his body stronger, noting that the world’s top-10 golfers were “physically stronger”.
“I used to focus a lot on the technical side of the game,” said Ishikawa. “And when I was out injured, I had a lot of support from my trainer and we started doing more physical training, strengthening my back and rebuilding the body. I think I have become stronger on this area which will help me in the future.”