AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Japanese teenager Ryo Ishikawa will have extra motivation for this week’s U.S. Masters where he is eager to excel to bring joy to the victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in his country.
The 19-year-old, who has already pledged to donate all of his earnings this year to the relief effort in Japan, is making his third appearance at Augusta National in the opening major of the season.
“I believe in the power that sports can bring to those people who are affected by the disaster,” Ishikawa, speaking through an interpreter, told reporters on Monday.
“Therefore, I would like to really do my best to bring the joy to those people. I believe that if the Japanese players here are doing well, they (those people) will be encouraged.
“Many sports events in Japan are postponed or canceled because of the quake but I would like to emphasize the power and energy that sports can create for those people.”
Saitama-born Ishikawa was competing in last month’s WGC-Cadillac Championship in Miami when the earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan.
After consulting with his family and management team, he decided to hand over all his 2011 tour earnings to the relief effort, along with 100,000 yen ($1,207) for every birdie he registers.
“This is my fourth year as a professional golfer, and I was supported by many sponsors,” said Ishikawa, who is nicknamed the ‘Bashful Prince’ because of his unassuming demeanor.
“They provided me with everything I need to play golf, and whatever I earned, I spent for golf. But now it’s my turn to support those people who are in need.”
Ishikawa, who is already one of his country’s biggest sporting celebrities, said he felt a special obligation to give financial aid to his fellow Japanese.
The Japan quake and tsunami left more than 27,000 people dead or missing and has taken a massive toll on the world’s third largest economy.
While Ishikawa has already triumphed nine times on the Japanese Tour, he is yet to translate that success to the highly competitive U.S. PGA Tour.
“I haven’t been producing the results, but at the same time, I know that I am playing well,” the world number 45 said. “Some day, I would like to show the American people how well I can play.”
Ishikawa missed the cut in his first two appearances at Augusta National, where he was initially stunned by the size of the crowds, but he firmly believes he can handle the pressure more effectively this week.
“Last year, that pressure was so strong that I just failed to deal with it,” he said. “But I learned from that.
“This year, even as I played the practice round today, I’m more used to playing in front of a large crowd. I’m doing better and I’m playing much better than the last two times.”
Editing by Frank Pingue