Japanese phenom Ryo Ishikawa shouldn’t be overlooked at Colonial

Ryo Ishikawa, of Japan, is looking for his first win on the PGA Tour. He’ll play in the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial this week.
Ryo Ishikawa, of Japan, is looking for his first win on the PGA Tour. He’ll play in the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial this week. AP

At mid-morning on Monday, with the Texas sun starting to bear down on Colonial's practice area, working quietly on his short-game was heralded Japanese phenom Ryo Ishikawa.

In a glaring absence that has been a staple of Ishikawa's practice sessions, though, was the throng of Japanese media that typically surround his every move.

That can happen when a player's game goes into a funk.

Still, while a number of statistics tell his tale of struggle, there's the resume that stands firm on his legitimacy as the next great player from Japan.

Try 11 wins on the Japanese Tour, six of them coming before the age of 18, for starters.

But then there’s the seven years Ishikawa has played regularly on the PGA Tour with only marginal progress.

The success in his home country hasn’t translated to victories in the United States.

“It’s just been a mental struggle,” he said while preparing for this week’s Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. “It’s been really hard for me to concentrate sometimes because the level of other players looks so high in comparison.

“But I’ve been at that level before and now sometimes I seem to forget that and I’m not as positive with my thinking during a round.”

In the U.S., he has two second-place finishes and nine top 10s in 107 events on the PGA Tour.

His near-misses came in 2012 and 2013 when he finished runner up to American George McNeil at the Puerto Rico open by two shots and then second along with Jason Bohn to Webb Simpson at the Shriners Hospital for Children’s Open in Las Vegas.

Since Vegas, it’s been a mixed bag with occasional flashes of brilliance.

Ishikawa has had recent success, making eight cuts this season and shooting 8-under 280 to finish eighth at The Players Championship.

Despite all of that experience, Ishikawa is still just 23 years old.

“It seems like I’ve been out here for a while, but I’m still getting used to it,” Ishikawa said. “Sometimes I do feel a little homesick and want to go back and play in Japan, but this is the place I want to be. And I don’t just want to be the player hanging around every season and keeping his card.

“I want to be the kind of player that can get those victories and be consistent with my play at the highest level.”

Ishikawa said his wedge game has improved to a point where he feels like being in contention again is right around the corner.

And statistics prove that point as he ranks first amongst Tour players in approach shots from 50-125 yards.

That might translate into success at Colonial given the number of opportunities that players will have over the par-70 course.

“The only problem I need to keep working on is my driver,” he said with a smile and laugh. “I feel like I hit it plenty long, but my accuracy just isn’t where it needs to be.”

Ishikawa ranks 69th in driving distance and 187th in accuracy.

Still, with an upswing in numbers and recent success, Ishikawa is upbeat as Colonial approaches on Thursday.

“This one and Harbor Town are my two favorite regular tournaments,” he said. “The small greens and tight fairways remind of signature courses in Japan.”