Young Japanese Star, Age 17, Will Play In The 2009 Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented By MasterCard


Ryo Ishikawa responds to Arnold Palmer's personal letter

The 17-year-old rising Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa will play in the 2009 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard, having received a personal invitation from the host himself.

At Palmer's request, Commissioner Tim Finchem has designated Ishikawa to receive one of the two exemptions reserved for foreign players in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The 31st annual tournament will be the week of March 23-29 at Palmer's Bay Hill Club in Orlando, Florida. Tiger Woods is the defending champion.

Ishikawa made history in 2007 when, as a 15-year-old high school freshman from Tokyo, he became the youngest champion ever on one of the world's major golf tours, winning the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup on the Japan Tour. He became a professional last year and won again at the mynavi ABC Championship and placed second in the Japan Open.

Palmer extended the invitation in a letter in December to Ishikawa, who responded last week.

In his letter, Palmer began: "I have been following your achievements in Japan and I am quite impressed with what you have accomplished at such a young age. To win a tour event as a teenager is quite a feat, I must say.

"I also understand that you have expressed an interest in taking your game to another level by playing some tournaments on the international scene with your eye on the future. This leads me to suggest that you might like to come to Florida next March and play in my Arnold Palmer Invitational..."

In his response to the 79-year-old patriarch, Ishikawa said, in part: "When I received your letter, I was so thrilled that my hands became shaky holding your letter…I am so honored to play your tournament with such a great field. Although this is only my second year as a professional golfer and I need to work on a lot of things, it will be a great experience for my career. I will do my best."

The invitation to Ishikawa extends a Bay Hill tradition of recognizing talented young players from around the world and being the first to invite them to play in a PGA Tour event. Past invitees have included Jose Maria Olazabal from Spain in 1990, Ernie Els from South Africa in 1993, and the Fijian Vijay Singh, then playing on the European Tour, also in 1993.

Ishikawa became the youngest winner of Japan’s athlete of the year award, presented at the Japan Professional Sports Grand Prize ceremony in December 2008. The previous youngest winner was Daisuke Matsuzaka, now with the Boston Red Sox, who won at age 19 when he played for the Seibu Lions in 1999.

Nicknamed the "Shy Prince" because of his unassuming demeanor, Ishikawa has a huge media following, as does Matsuzaka and a few other Japanese baseball stars.

Ishikawa made his professional debut on February 5, 2008, in the Australian qualifier for the British Open, but did not win one of the four places in the championship. He also played, for the second year, in the Pearl Open, a domestic tournament in Hawaii. He was fifth on the 2008 Japan Tour money list and earned $1,074,469, converted to U.S. dollars.

Before Ishikawa, Ty Tryon was the youngest to play in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at 17 years, nine months, in 2002, four months older than Ishikawa will be this March.

Also, before Ishikawa, these were some of the youngest winners on the major golf tours and championships:
British Open - Young Tom Morris, 1868, 17 years, five months, three days
PGA Championship - Gene Sarazen, 1922, 20 years, five months, 22 days
Masters Tournament - Tiger Woods, 1997, 21 years, three months, 14 days
U.S. Open and PGA Tour - John McDermott, 1911 U.S. Open, 19 years, 11 months
European Tour - Dale Hayes, 1971 Spanish Open, 18 years, 290 days
Japan Tour - Seve Ballesteros, 1977 Japan Open, 20 years, seven months
U.S. LPGA Tour - Marlene Hagge, 1952 Sarasota Open, 18 years, 14 days
Japan LPGA Tour - Ai Miyazato, 2003 Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop, 18 years, 101 days

For tickets to the 2009 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard or for more information, log on to the tournament web site, or call the ticket office at Bay Hill at 407-876-7774 or toll free at 1-866-764-4843. Tournament proceeds benefit the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies.