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The Tour Report

March 11 2011

11:36 AM

Devastation in Japan hits home

DORAL, Fla. -- All week long, the giant LED screen at the front of the media center had either been tuned to the Golf Channel or ESPN.

Friday morning, though, CNN was on, and the disturbing scenes projected over and over where golf normally occupies center stage were of the devastation from the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan overnight.

The images hit a little closer to home here at Doral where three Japanese players are competing in the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship. And 44 reporters and photographers from 29 different Japanese media outlets had come to Doral to report on their sports heroes, Ryo Ishikawa, Hiroyuki Fujita and Yuta Ikeda.

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Ikeda was so distraught by the news he declined to speak with reporters after he finished off his round of 74 on Friday morning. But he did stop for an interview after shooting 73 on Friday afternoon.

Ikeda's ties to the tragedy were more direct since he  went to Tohoku Fukushi University in Sendai, which sustained some of the worst damage from the quake that registered 8.9 on the Richter scale. And Ikeda's parents live in Chiba, where an oil refinery was burning.

"It's tough," Ikeda said. "(Sendai is) my second hometown.  I was born and raised in Chiba, but I went to school in Sendai and to see what you had to see on TV was very difficult to take in."

Ikeda first learned of the disaster when he received an e-mail from a friend in Japan about 3 a.m. on Friday morning. The nine-time winner on the Japan Tour has been up ever since, watching the news coverage whenever he could.

"The tough part; the cell phones still are not working in Japan," Ikeda said. "So I made many calls, but everyone I haven't been able to contact. It doesn't mean they are not accounted for. It just means I haven't been able to contact them to make sure they are okay." 

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Ishikawa learned about the earthquake when he got up Friday and turned on his computer, as he does every morning. His parents live in the Tokyo area, which is about 250 miles from the hardest hit areas of Japan. Even so, the earthquake felt in the country’s capital city was in the realm of 5.0 on the Richter scale. 

"I received communication from my father, and the message was, focus on your golf, we are fine, do what you need to do,” Ishikawa said.

Ishikawa tried to follow his dad’s advice at 8:30 a.m. when he returned to TPC Blue Monster to complete the first round. He had six holes to play and made two more birdies -- shooting a 65, which is his best round on the PGA TOUR by three strokes.

"Many of the PGA (TOUR) players walked up to me such as Ernie Els and Vijay Singh … and asked how was my family and showed a lot of concern and I appreciated that,” Ishikawa said. “I tried my best to block everything out but as you can imagine, it’s a very tough day.”

Ishikawa was alone in second at 7 under, one stroke behind Hunter Mahan, after the first round. He never got untracked in the second round, though, and shot a 76 that left him tied for 17th, five strokes back. But he refused to blame his play on the tragic events in his homeland.

“It was simply that the Blue Monster decided to be what it’s known to be,” said Ishikawa, who who noted that all the major professional sports have been suspended in Japan. He hopes to continue to play well for his country.

"It is not possible to block something of this magnitude out completely," Ishikawa said. "But I understand that in the position that I am, together with the other star athletes from Japan and other sporting areas, we can provide encouragement and hope for the people of Japan by myself doing the job."

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Fujita, who is from Tokyo, saw the footage of the disaster on TV before he resumed his first round at 8:30 a.m. He had not been able to reach his family but found out on the sixth hole everyone was okay.

“When I saw the TV, it's so disastrous, but I had a tee time, so anyway, I need to go and tee off, and I just did it and tried to concentrate on my own play,” Fujita said.

The news reports and pictures were hard to take in. “I couldn't believe it,” Fujita said. “It is not in this world.”

Click here to read what other PGA TOUR pros and fans are saying. -- Helen Ross