AUGUSTA, Georgia — Japanese teen golf prodigy Ryo Ishikawa teed off Thursday in the 75th Masters with hopes of providing people struggling in his disaster-ravaged homeland some much-needed inspiration.
The 19-year-old superstar has vowed to donate his entire 2011 season golf prize money winnings to relief efforts in the wake of last month's earthquake and tsunami that left 26,000 dead in Japan.
"I would really like to encourage people, especially those who are going through the hardship in Japan," Ishikawa said. "I hope this will contribute to those people so they will be encouraged and they can walk again in their life.
"I believe in the power sports can bring to people who are affected by the disaster. I would like to do my best to bring joy to those people. I would like to emphasize the power and energy that sport can create."
Ishikawa's goal is to send 200 million yen ($2.4 million) in relief donation prize money this year as well as 100,000 yen ($1,200) for his every birdie.
"As I see how these people supported me, now it's my turn to support those people who are in need," Ishikawa said. "As my social status in Japan is getting higher, I believe that is one of the responsibilities."
Defending Masters champion Phil Mickelson took home $1.35 million last year but to earn so much this week for Japan relief, Ishikawa would have to pass Tiger Woods to become the youngest man to claim a green jacket and do so in only his third tournament at Augusta National.
"It's my intention to play really well," said Ishikawa, who missed the cut in 2009 and 2010 in his only prior Masters starts. "That will be the best way to encourage people in Japan."
As much as he tries to inspire Japan's people, he takes inspiration and motivation from them as well, knowing their resolve and patience are qualities that will serve him well at Augusta National.
"People are lining up for food and water for three or four hours just to make it," he said. "As I listen to the world media report on the endurance of the Japanese people I am very proud to be Japanese, especially looking at those people who are dealing with this hard situation in the most calm way."
Sponsorship deals and other business projects will ensure Ishikawa has enough money to finance his golf this year as he plays for the Japanese people while keeping his mind on the golf tasks at hand over the famed course.
"Right now I'm 100 percent for playing golf," Ishikawa said. "I believe that as I play I'm connected with the people that are affected by the disaster.
"I feel I am with them and fighting side by side."
Ishikawa won three times in Japan last year, including the Crowns tournament where he fired a final-round 58, and has earned the respect of top stars with his efforts on and off the course.
"He just seems like a really classy kid," Mickelson said. "He's really a nice guy to play with and be around and has an impressive golf game. I think it's cool what he is doing (for Japan relief)."
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »