Is it Rio? Roh? Yoh? Only Ishikawa can tell us

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Ryo Ishikawa will help a lot of people out the first time he says his name aloud at a PGA TOUR event.
February 16, 2009
Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

Remember that Visa commercial where Yao Ming is standing in a Big Apple souvenir store, clutching a miniature Statue of Liberty?

The 7-foot-6 NBA star from Shanghai asks to write a check. The clerk says, "Yo," as she points over her shoulder at a sign that says "Absolutely No Checks."

Ming innocently counters with "Yao," pointing to his name on his warm-up suit. She motions to the sign again and says, "Yo," and so it goes until he finally leaves the statue on the counter and walks out of the store in frustration.

I couldn't help but think of that commercial as I did some research to find out how to correctly pronounce Ryo Ishikawa's first name. The 17-year-old pro is making his PGA TOUR debut in Los Angeles this week at the Northern Trust Open.

Several Japanese journalists have told me to say "YOH." Other people have suggested it's more like "re-YOH" with a softer 'R' and the emphasis on the last syllable. Most everyone agrees it's not "RE-yo."

Someone at the Japan Tour even passed along a blog written several years ago by a Japanese gentleman named Ryo who has settled in the United States. In it, he writes:

"When I first came to U.S., I was a little surprised to find almost all native English speakers cannot pronounce my name correctly, even after I told my name to them again and again. But on another thought, it is quite natural, since the sound of "r" in "Ryo" is not really the sound of "r". It is rather closer to "l" or even to "d", as some Web site explains."

Included in the blog is an MP3 link to the correct pronunciation. Even after listening to it several times, I am still clueless, although it sounds more like "YOH" to me. I guess I'll have to wait until Tuesday when the young pro does his press conference at Riviera.

By the way, in that commercial, as Ming walks through the door, he passes a small bald man. As the commercial ends, that man is trying to buy a baseball. The same clerk says "Yo," and the man adds "Gi." Then he repeats, "Yogi." Berra, that is.

And you can't "Blame it on Rio," either.