Former women’s world No. 1 golfer Ai Miyazato won nine LPGA Tour titles in her career. Her trademark smile is still beloved by fans, and she is just as polite as always when dealing with the media.
What Miyazato lacks is the motivation to keep playing competitively.
“I have been finding it difficult to keep my motivation for the last four or five years,” Miyazato said at a news conference at a Tokyo hotel on Monday in front of more than 300 reporters. “Without motivation, I can’t force myself to train hard. You have to be satisfied with your results as a professional golfer, but I can’t with this mentality. This is not how I think I should be.”
Miyazato was speaking publicly for the first time since she unexpectedly announced her retirement on Friday. She will continue to play this season, including in LPGA Tour events, but will put away her clubs for good after that.
“I would say that I won’t come back for now,” said Miyazato, who also denied that she is getting married anytime soon. “I have no plans for what I’m going to do next year. I’m just focusing on the rest of the tournaments that I’m playing in and I’m looking forward to seeing as many fans as possible.”
Miyazato, who turns 32 next month, took up golf at the age of four, under the guidance of her father, Masaru. She turned pro after winning the Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Women’s Open when she was an 18-year-old high school student.
The Okinawa native joined the LPGA Tour in 2006 and won her first title at the Evian Masters in 2009. She has won a total of nine LPGA titles, including five in the 2010 season when she became the top-ranked golfer on the LPGA Tour.
Those years were her most productive, but also the time when she began to struggle mentally.
“(During 2009-12) I kept winning and I thought it was my peak as a golfer and the best in my career,” Miyazato said. “But still I couldn’t win the majors. That was the time I started questioning myself — ‘I’m in my best form and I still can’t win a major title. What should I do?’
“My mental coach advised me not to worry too much because (losing motivation) could happen to any player,” Miyazato continued. “But when you haven’t won a championship for five years as I haven’t, you lose the feeling of winning and the formula to win.”
Miyazato began thinking of retirement last summer, when she had three weeks off because Tour tournaments were put on hold during the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
“It was the longest time off I had had since I turned pro and I had plenty of time to think of my career, ” Miyazato said.
“I think Ai can still improve and keep playing technically,” said her father, Masaru, who also trained Ai’s older brothers Kiyoshi and Yusaku, both pros. “She is still good enough to make the cut in the tournaments and make some money. But that is not what the fans want Ai to achieve.”
Miyazato’s smile finally turned to tears when she concluded the 45-minute news conference.
“In my 15 years as a professional golfer,” Miyazato said, before stopping briefly to choke back tears, “I am happy that I earned a lot of support from fans, sponsors and other people. I have no regrets about quitting.”