Although much attention will be focused on whether Ryo Ishikawa becomes the youngest money leader in Japanese golf history, Shingo Katayama will try not to let that happen.
The JGTO tour opens its 2009 season Thursday with the ¥130 million Token Homemate Cup at Token Tado Country Club in Mie Prefecture and runs through Dec. 6 for a total of 25 tournaments.
Ishikawa has broken many records for the youngest golfer in Japan since shooting to fame in May 2007, when he became the youngest winner on the men’s professional tour at the Munsinigwear Open KSB Cup as a 15-year-old amateur.
In 2008, his rookie season as a pro, Ishikawa struggled early but finished strong to come in fifth on the money list.
He picked up momentum when he finished second to Katayama at the Japan Open in mid-October and captured his second career JGTO title two weeks later at the mynavi ABC Championship.
The 17-year-old ended up having five top-five finishes in his last eight starts of the year while passing the ¥100 million mark in earnings in the process.
Ishikawa even made his debut in the Masters Tournament last week, making him the second-youngest competitor at Augusta National Golf Club at 17 years, 6 months. Tommy Jacobs played as an amateur in 1952 at 17 years, 1 month.
“I have been able to taste an experience that I would never get anywhere else. I will make a big effort over the next year,” Ishikawa said after missing the cut by five strokes Friday.
Without taking a break, Ishikawa will tee off at the Token Homemate Cup as the poster boy for the season-opening event.
Meanwhile, Katayama achieved one of the greatest accomplishments of his career last weekend as he finished fourth in his eighth Masters appearance, equaling the best-ever result by a Japanese player in the tournament.
“Seventeen-year-old Ishikawa-kun played here at the Augusta National and I was able to make a big effort and I think this will rekindle interest in Japanese golf, too,” Katayama said after Sunday’s final round.
The 36-year-old, known for his trademark cowboy hat, aims to carry the momentum into the domestic season in a bid for his second consecutive and sixth overall money title.
His thoughts are far from the season, however.
“I am not thinking about anything at the moment and I won’t be competing in this weekend’s tournament,” Katayama said Tuesday upon his return from the Masters.
Among other notable players, Shigeki Maruyama will spend his first full season in Japan in 10 years after winning three times on the U.S. PGA Tour, once each in 2001-2003.
The popular 39-year-old is a nine-time winner in Japan and was third in the money rankings in his previous full season of 1999.
Azuma Yano and Hideto Tanihara, second and fourth on the 2008 money list, respectively, hope to be consistent throughout the season and pose a serious threat to Katayama.
Toru Taniguchi’s season debut is yet to be decided since the 2007 money winner dislocated his left shoulder in a car accident in Osaka in late February.
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