Ishikawa eyes comeback at ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP
Has struggled with lower-back pain but is on the rise again
October 22, 2019
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
- Ryo Ishikawa has been playing well this year entering the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP. (Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
The career apex for Ryo Ishikawa, Japan’s so-called Bashful Prince, spanned oceans.
When he shot a final-round 58 to win the 2010 Crowns, a tournament on the Japan Golf Tour, and Rory McIlroy shot 62 to win the Wells Fargo Championship the same day, McIlroy said, “Ryo is my hero.”
High praise, but McIlroy wasn’t the only one caught up in Ryo-mania.
Ishikawa won a 2007 tournament on the Japan Golf Tour at 15; earned a special invitation to the 2009 Masters Tournament at 17; and played in the 2009 and 2011 Presidents Cups.
Then, just as quickly, he fell off the map. Which begs the question: Why?
“I believe the main reason would be my body,” Ishikawa said at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP in Chiba, Japan. “Since 2013, I’ve been suffering with a bad lower back up until this spring. I was swinging the club feeling worried about how my lower back’s going to be.
“Even though that’s not everything,” he added, “I would say that lower back is one of the main reasons. But I trained hard up until May this year and it’s starting to get better.”
The star-studded ZOZO field includes not just McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas and a lot of other household names, including 20 of the 30 who made the TOUR Championship. It’s also stocked with 10 players from the Japan Golf Tour, which is co-sanctioning the event. Ishikawa, who has already won twice this season on that tour, is arguably the most famous among them.
The Bashful Prince, who turned pro at 16, turned 28 last month. Although almost no one is talking about him as a potential pick for International Presidents Cup Captain Ernie Els – Ishikawa went 3-2-0 as a captain’s pick in a losing cause in ’09 – his recent play is starting to remind observers of the flashy, handsome teen phenom who shot to stardom a decade ago.
Grouped with McIlroy and Tom Watson at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Ishikawa dusted them both and was just two back of 36-hole leader Graeme McDowell going into the weekend. The golf world was smitten, and praise poured in from all corners.
“He reminded me of when I was 18,” Watson said after the second round at Pebble Beach. “Made everything. Drove it in the back of the hole and rattled it in.”
Although it was not McIlroy’s week – he shot 10 over and missed the cut – The Guardian newspaper called Ryo and Rory “the Jack and Arnie of the post-Tiger era.”
It didn’t work out that way. Ishikawa faded to a T33 finish at Pebble. He made 145 career starts on the PGA TOUR, with 11 top-10 finishes, his best a second at the 2012 Puerto Rico Open and a T2 at the 2013 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. He lost his card with a 175th-place finish in the FedExCup in 2017.
He consulted a sports psychologist, worked on strengthening his back, and started seeing results with some top-10 finishes in Japan last season. After returning to the winner’s circle with his 15th and 16th victories in July and August, he is third on the Japan Golf Tour money list.
Ishikawa, who has never competed at the 7,041-yard, par-70 Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club, and was rained out from playing a practice round Tuesday, hasn’t ruled out a return to the PGA TOUR. And who knows? Maybe a Presidents Cup bid isn’t entirely out of the question. Els will make his picks Nov. 4.
“I feel very good about my physical condition now,” Ishikawa said. “I can swing the way I want to swing.”