Ai Miyazato hopes one day to be as famous on the world stage as she is in Japan.
It could happen, but the 19-year-old Miyazato knows she’ll have to play better than she did at last week’s Nabisco Championship where she made her debut on the U.S. LPGA Tour.
Playing as a sponsor’s invitee, Miyazato, who is hugely popular in Japan, failed to break par at Mission Hills Country Club and finished in a tie for 44th place. World No. 1 Annika Sorenstam won after not making a bogey and shooting rounds of 66 and 68 on the weekend, a performance that impressed the young Miyazato.
“Annika is leagues ahead of the rest of us,” Miyazato said Wednesday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. “She’s generous and kind, and I have a lot of respect for her.”
Miyazato, who won five titles last year on the Japanese Tour to become the first teenager to win more than $1 million in Japan, said the experience at the Nabisco Championship was valuable.
“Experience is a very important factor,” said Miyazato, who wants to be a regular on the U.S. LPGA Tour. “Everything was tougher at the Nabisco but I think it will help improve my game in the long run.”
Teaming with Rui Kitada, Miyazato led Japan to victory at the World Cup in South Africa in February. Two weeks later she finished runnerup to Karrie Webb at the ANZ Ladies Masters in Australia.
Japan has a history of producing golfers who excel at home but falter overseas. Before Shigeki Maruyama came along, Isao Aoki was the only Japanese player to make a name for himself internationally.
Aoki is best known for holing out for an eagle on the 18th hole in the 1983 Hawaiian Open to become the first Japanese player to win on the PGA Tour.
Like Aoki and Maruyama, Miyazato also has an outgoing personality that allows her to fit in just about anywhere.
“The language barrier is the biggest obstacle for Japanese players,” said Miyazato. “But I love English and communicating with other players. Maruyama also seems to enjoy this and I think that’s why he’s had success overseas.”
Miyazato comes from a golfing family. Born in Higashison on the north side of Okinawa, her father, Masuru, is a golf coach and two of her older brothers, Yusaku and Kiyoshi, are pro golfers.
When she ventures out to shop in Okinawa, “I need to wear a hat,” to shield herself from adoring fans.
Having played since the age of four, Miyazato, despite her lack of height, consistently drives about 250 yards. Her low score as a professional is 63.
On Wednesday, she said she needs to work on her putting game and accuracy.
“I was hitting the ball well at the Nabisco Championship,” said Miyazato. “But I noticed I was making more putts than the other players and that’s something I need to improve. Driving distance is important but I also need to work on my accuracy.”
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