AUGUSTA, GA. – There are few more mesmerizing talents in golf than Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa, the 19-year-old who has already won seven times on the Japanese professional tour. Ishikawa, though, is drawing more attention as he heads into his third Masters for what he is doing to aid victims of last month’s earthquake and tsunami in his native country: namely, donating all his prize money from 2011 to relief efforts.
“By doing so, I would really like to encourage those people, especially those who are going through the hardship in Japan,” Ishikawa said at Augusta National. “[I] hope that this will contribute to those people so that they will be encouraged and they can walk again in their life.”
Ishikawa is one of just four Japanese golfers in the 99-player field for the Masters. Each is playing with his country and its people on his mind. Amateur Hideki Matsuyama is from the city of Sendai, which was badly damaged by the tsunami.
“I’ve seen it, and it’s just indescribable,” Matsuyama said. “ . . . It’s just beyond imagination.”
Ishikawa has not been back home since the March 11 disaster, but he considers the donation of his winnings just a first step in his contribution.
“I would like to provide long-term support for those people,” he said.
At first glance, Phil Mickelson’s choice of a meal for Tuesday night’s champions dinner — mesclun greens, seafood paella, filet mignon, apple pie — seems straightforward. But each dish has a Spanish flair, and that is for one reason: Seve Ballesteros, the dashing Spaniard who won two Masters, was unable to attend as he continues to battle a brain tumor.
“All of the past champions are really thinking about Seve,” said Mickelson, who first met Ballesteros as a 17-year-old. Even at that age, Mickelson admired Ballesteros’s flair, and no modern player reflects Ballesteros’s all-or-nothing style as does Mickelson.
“From that day on,” Mickelson said of their initial meeting, “he has been the nicest guy and supportive and been nothing but class to me, and I just always appreciated that.”
Thus, the steak was topped with manchego cheese and accompanied by tortilla Espanola.
“The spirit in which he played the game will never be forgotten,” said six-time winner Jack Nicklaus.
Lee Westwood, the second-ranked player in the world and the runner-up at last year’s Masters, had a bit of a harrowing experience when the private plane he was using to travel from the Shell Houston Open to Augusta began to fill with smoke shortly after takeoff, and the pilots put on oxygen masks.
“It was a bit nervy for three or four minutes,” Westwood said. He did, though, take a dig at his agent, Chubby Chandler – who manages most of Europe’s top players – by saying, “You talk to Chubby, there were flames coming up between our legs.”
The flight returned to the airport, and the party started over.
“I’ll tell you: On the next flight I had a very large double vodka,” Westwood said.
Four-time champion Tiger Woods will begin the quest for his first Masters title since 2005 in a group with Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champ, and Australian Robert Allenby at 10:41 a.m. Thursday. Mickelson will join Australia’s Geoff Ogilvy and U.S. Amateur champ Peter Uihlein of Oklahoma St. in the first round’s penultimate group, teeing off at 1:48 p.m. — and in the heart of ESPN’s coverage.
Other featured groups: World No. 1 Martin Kaymer will play with No. 2 Westwood and No. 10 Matt Kuchar at 10:19 a.m., and three of the best young players in the world — 21-year-old Rory McIlroy, 22-year-old Rickie Fowler and 23-year-old Jason Day — will play together at 9:24 a.m.
Fairfax native Steve Marino, who qualified for his second Masters by finishing tied for 14th in his debut last year, will play with Anthony Kim and Henrik Stenson at 1:04 p.m.