Million-dollar Japanese teen headed for Augusta

Within one week, 17-year-old Japanese golf sensation Ryo Ishikawa was given a million-dollar golf club and a fulfilled wish that could be worth millions more.

The schoolboy, who at 15 years old became the youngest winner of a professional tournament, has been given a driver which cost US$1 million to develop by Japanese sports giant Yonex, helping in his bid to smash the ball 350 yards.

Dearer to his heart, though, is an invitation to compete at this year’s US Masters in Augusta.

Yes, the temptations to compare him to Tiger Woods are there. But the “next Tiger Woods” has been in the making ever since Tiger himself first strutted on to the stage and the story has been done to death.

But talk is that Ishikawa the real thing. In May, 2007 he won the KSB in Japan and when he tees off at the Masters he will be 17 years, six months and 23 days.

He is ranked 60th in the world and is a genuine professional. He has become a magnet for sponsors, which is great for him but could also hinder him from focusing on his golf, a la Michelle Wie.

However, there is no question about his talent, which is why Yonex is so keen for him to experiment with their new driver. He said:

“The ball feels lighter somehow. It’s a strange feeling. I’ve never hit it so far. I can have a real go at driving 350 yards now.”

Maybe he might use it when he plays at the Masters on April 9. Ishikawa wants to replace Woods as the youngest winner of the Masters. Woods was 21 when he lifted his first major in 1997.

And his two pro victories and more than US$1 million in prize money so far shows that, sheer ability-wise, he probably has what it takes. PGA Tour players will get a taste of his skills when he makes his US debut next month at the Northern Trust Open. He added:

“I want to become a player capable of competing in the Masters dozens of times. I will then aim to make the cut and contend for the title. At the moment, it feels like I am going to see PGA regulars, such as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, rather than going to fight them. If I ever see them, they may take me for one Ryo Ishikawa but not as an opponent.”

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