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Ai Miyazato is aiming for the top

19-year-old Japanese sensation Ai Miyazato admitted on the eve of the $Aus800,000 ANZ Ladies Masters that she wants to become the world number one woman golfer and replace her golfing idol Annika Sörenstam at the top of the rankings.

After a fast start to her fledgling career, it’s not just wishful thinking.

Miyazato, who won the inaugural Women’s World Cup of Golf at Fancourt in South Africa alongside playing partner Rui Kitada, is already a sporting icon in her homeland and everywhere she goes, there is a massive media contingent from the written press, radio and television. So much so that over half of the media centre at the ANZ Ladies Masters was occupied by the Japanese contingent and in addition, a crew of over 20 television staff arrived at Royal Pines to film a documentary on her meteoric rise to stardom.

And Miyazato’s first appearance in Australia caused a distinct shortage of accommodation in Surfers Paradise as her compatriots flocked from the winter of Japan to the sunshine of the Gold Coast to see her compete against some of the world’s top golfers such as Karrie Webb, Laura Davies, Karen Stupples and Rachel Hetherington.

Miyazato is, according to her manager Yuji ‘Dave’ Otsuka, “bigger than David Beckham” in Japan and her face adorns many billboards across the country.

She has boosted the popularity of women's golf in the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ and such is and despite her diminutive 5’2” stature, she is metaphorically even bigger than Tiger Woods.

Last November when Woods won the Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Japan, Miyazato was winning on the Japan LPGA. The events went head-to-head and her TV ratings easily out-rated those of Woods.

She stars in many television adverts including one for Suntory, the beer and whisky distributors, one of her main sponsors. However, somewhat incongruously, it is not legal to drink in Japan until the age of 20.

Miyazato became a household name when she won her first pro tournament at the Miyagi Cup in 2003 as an amateur and then turned professional and won five more times in her rookie season on the LPGA Tour of Japan. She posted a total of 16 top-ten finishes and earned more than 115million Yen in 2004, making her the first sports teenager in Japan to pass that earnings milestone.

This year, Miyazato has already notched up the biggest win of her young career and is making plans to raid the coffers of the LPGA Tour as soon as she can. Thanks to her performances, she has been granted an exemption for the first women’s major championship of the year, the Kraft Nabisco Championship in March.

“The World Cup was my biggest win and I’ll never forget that week. I have my card in Japan for this year, so I’ll try for the LPGA in America in 2006,” said Miyazato, who grew up in Higashison on the north side of Okinawa.

“The LPGA is a very competitive tour and I think I might need to improve a little more. I want to be like Annika and I think about that a lot. I’m not sure how long it will take me to get to be world number one and I think I will need to be lucky, too.”

Despite her stardom, Miyazato says she can still walk the streets in her hometown of Okinawa and go shopping without being hassled by her adoring fans.

“But sometimes, I need to wear a hat,” she giggled.

And like most modern teenagers, she is a big fan of music and movies. But she confessed that she does not like Japanese music, preferring the rock sounds of American band ‘Green Day’.

“Oh, and I really like Brad Pitt,” she confessed. “My favourite movie is Troy, it’s so cool.”

Miyazato took up golf at the age of four, inspired by her father, Masuru, who is a golf instructor and her two elder brothers, Yusaku and Kiyoshi, who play on the Japanese men's tour.

Despite her lack of height, she has an excellent power to weight ratio as she consistently hits her drives over 250-yards and her lowest score as a professional is 63.

Not only does she have her eye on the World number one spot in years to come, she also wants to win a major championship, something that no Japanese female player has ever done.

With her ability and with the right support network around her, it would come as little surprise to anyone. When she does and wherever she goes next it might be worth building a new town to cope with the entourage she brings with her.


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