• Kyodo

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Japanese golfing star Ai Miyazato said Wednesday she is relishing a totally new experience but bracing for a tough round when she becomes the first Japanese woman to play in a domestic men’s professional tour event Thursday.

News photoAi Miyazato (right) hits a tee shot as other golfers look on during a practice round prior to the Asia-Japan Okinawa Open.

“After having a practice round today, as expected, I really feel that the course is longer than in a women’s tournament,” Miyazato said on the eve of beginning her campaign at the Asia-Japan Okinawa Open in her native prefecture.

“I may have to use woods instead of irons many times depending on wind conditions and it’s likely that I’ll pull even a driver out of the bag on one of the par-3s,” she said, adding the Tifton grass at the Naha Golf Club is unfamiliar to her and could cause trouble.

“I can’t reach the green in two shots on any of the par-5s here, so it would be tough if they have difficult pin positions. Shooting even-par will probably be the best I could do,” Miyazato added.

Miyazato will mingle with men from the Japanese tour as well as the Asian circuit to cap an illustrious year, which included her triumph at the inaugural Women’s World Cup of Golf, five Japan LPGA titles and record-setting win in the U.S. LPGA qualifying tournament.

She is hoping the local crowd will enjoy her play this week a year after her eldest bother, Kiyoshi Miyazato, captured his first career victory in the same event on the same 6,801-yard, par-71 course — a relatively short course for a men’s tournament.

“This tournament offers me a brand new experience but I’m here out of gratitude for what I’ve got from the place I love — Okinawa. I’ll just try my best to please the people who come out on the course and watch me play,” said Miyazato, the youngest of three golfing siblings.

Miyazato has been instrumental in boosting the popularity of women’s golf in Japan in recent years. The 20-year-old’s schedule has remained even after the end of the season on the Japan LPGA tour.

Miyazato played in the Three Tours Championship, an unofficial event featuring top players from the domestic men’s, women’s and senior tours last week after returning from the U.S. LPGA qualifier held in Florida the previous week.

She arrived in Okinawa on Tuesday night and started a practice round alongside both of her brothers Wednesday morning.

“I don’t have any problems at all in my mental approach, though it has made me short of practice,” Miyazato said when asked about the effect of her busy schedule.

With her appearance, twice as many tickets for the 72-hole event have been sold than last year, while TV Tokyo and its affiliated stations decided to broadcast it for all four days — unusual coverage for a domestic tournament by a commercial network.

Miyazato’s appearance in the Asia-Japan Okinawa Open came three weeks after U.S. teenage sensation Michelle Wie played in the Casio World Open, a top-tier Japanese men’s tournament, and missed the cut.

This week’s tournament is part of the 2006 schedule of the Japanese men’s tour.

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