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Ryo Ishikawa saved the Japanese Tour
May 3, 2010

Record-breaking teenager Ryo Ishikawa has saved Japan’s struggling JGTO men’s golf tour from financial ruin, a top official said on Monday.

The 18-year-old, who fired a Japanese tour record 12-under-par 58 at the weekend, has more earning potential than any athlete the country has produced, JGTO executive director Andy Yamanaka told Reuters.

“Ryo is the complete package,” Yamanaka said. “I’m not sure if it was the same situation with Tiger Woods in the U.S. when he was younger but I’ve never seen anyone like Ryo in terms of his potential as an international athlete.

“It’s fair to say (he rescued the JGTO Tour). Before he appeared, people were losing interest in men’s golf. The men’s tour at that time didn’t have a star player like Ryo Ishikawa.

“Players were rude to fans and didn’t turn up to official functions. Their behaviour wasn’t professional. Ryo woke up a lot of the players.”

Ishikawa’s magical 58 on Sunday gave him a seventh career title at the Crowns tournament in Nagoya, three years after he became the Japanese tour’s youngest winner at 15.

“He went out in 28 (strokes) yesterday,” said Yamanaka. “That’s amazing. That is one of the toughest golf courses in Japan.”

Ishikawa’s financial impact on the JGTO since his breakthrough win in 2005 as a bashful schoolboy has also been astonishing.

“I couldn’t estimate the figures,” said Yamanaka, letting escape a long sigh. Under the current economic circumstances it is very important to have Ryo Ishikawa on the tour.

“Because of his presence there is more income for sponsors and better ticket sales of course.

“But TV ratings for tournaments where he is playing well are above 10 percent—which for golf is unbelievable.”

Ishikawa’s ultra-bright smile and good manners have also helped boost his celebrity, with mothers dragging their children to watch him play.

“You have no idea how many women and kids come to watch,” said Yamanaka. “Not just young ladies but mothers who want their kids to be like Ryo Ishikawa.

“It’s not just his golf game, it’s his charisma and his ability to behave on and off the course. It’s not enough now to be a great athlete. You have to be perfect in every aspect.”

Losing their cash cow to more lucrative overseas tours remains a constant fear for JGTO officials.

“He’s got 19 endorsements and more than 12 or 13 TV commercials,” said Yamanaka. “We worry about the future—him going to the U.S. or Europe and imagine if that happens what would our tour become?”

Asked about Ishikawa’s projected future earnings making him Japan’s first billion dollar athlete, Yamanaka said: “It could even be more than that!”

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