We have no idea how big Ryo Ishikawa is in Japan, but we may get some idea at the Presidents Cup in Melbourne in three weeks time.
The Japanese media have been whipped into a frenzy recently with news that Ryo Ishikawa may have a girlfriend. Ishikawa’s mother, who is also his manager, issued a statement in an attempt to calm everything down ahead of a Japanese tabloid preparing to publish a story on the relationship.
“There exists a woman whom Ryo Ishikawa is going out with, we would appreciate it if the people concerned will treat them with warm patience in order to help the two of them and avoid any trouble to sponsoring companies and competition officials”, Yukiko Ishikawa said.
Further speculation indicates that this “existing woman” may be unveiled at The Presidents Cup in Melbourne in three weeks. An event, like the Ryder Cup, where player wives and girlfriends (WAGs) feature almost as prominently as the players themselves.
How is this news? Why is this such a big deal? He has reportedly been going out with her for three years!?
To understand why this is news at all, we need some understanding of how big golf is and more importantly, how big Ryo Ishikawa is in Japan.
It is a quirk of world professional golf that the Japan Golf Tour is not covered more widely. Crowds are amazing and the tour is a strong and healthy one thanks to a large proportion of Japan’s 127 million population, being obsessed with the game of golf.
Take for example this week’s tournament on the Japan Golf Tour, the Mynavi ABC Championship. The total prize money for the event is ¥150,000,000, or converting to Australian dollars just over $1.9 million. The Australian Open total prize purse this year is AUD $1.5 million.
Granted, the Japan Tour is not paying as many appearance fees that the Australian Open will be but there are 10 more tournaments that make up the Japan tour, with equal to or greater than this amount of total prize money.
Ryo Ishikawa is the poster boy for Japanese golf. At only 20 years of age he has won 9 tournaments on the Japan Tour and became the youngest to do so in 2007 at the age of 15. He became the youngest ever player to slip inside the world’s top 100 golfers in 2008 and is followed to every tournament he plays by a huge throng of Japanese reporters. This may have something to do with his poor performances at majors so far where he has generally struggled to make the cut. The expectations are huge.
He has done for the Japan Tour what Tiger Woods did for the PGA Tour. Ishikawa’s presence has increased the corporate money pouring into golf not just on the tour, but into golf across the country. His good looks and clean image has meant a whole new generation is obsessed with the game. Many of whom are women, who are suddenly very interested in the men’s golf tour.
Ishikawa has appeared in a huge number of local commercials. His name and image is attached to a multitude of products in Japan, including some big name brands including Yonex and McDonald’s (see advertisement below). The guy is a young champion and he sells the game and anything he puts his name to.
For a large portion of the Japanese population, the news of Ishikawa’s girlfriend will be heart breaking. But for Japanese golf, it is yet another boost for its popularity and the coffers.
And for the Presidents Cup in three weeks time, if the interest in Ishikawa’s appearance at the event wasn’t already crazy in Japan, it will now be insane.