MELISSA BLOCK, host:
A 19-year-old golf phenom from Japan has promised to donate all of his 2011 tournament earnings to disaster relief back home. Ryo Ishikawa will be among the elite golfers teeing off when the Masters Tournament begins tomorrow in Augusta, Georgia.
Damon Hack, senior writer with Sports Illustrated, is in Augusta to cover the Masters, and he joins me now. Damon, just how good is Ryo Ishikawa?
Mr. DAMON HACK (Senior Writer, Sports Illustrated): Oh, he's very good, Melissa. He's already won nine times on the Japanese tour, and he's 19 years old. He actually won his first time on the Japanese tour as a 15-year-old amateur.
He's among the best players in the world, one of the top 50 players in the world, which is why he is here at Augusta this week, vying for the green jacket like the rest of the field.
BLOCK: And to say Ryo Ishikawa is big in Japan really understates the case.
Mr. HACK: Oh absolutely. He is like a rock star there. You know, there's several athletes that have come out of Japan, whether it's Hideki Matsui or Ichiro Suzuki in baseball. And Ai Miyazato on the LPGA tour is very popular.
But Ryo Ishikawa, whose nickname is the Bashful Prince, may eventually eclipse them all in terms of popularity.
BLOCK: The Bashful Prince. But he doesn't wear very bashful colors when he's playing.
Mr. HACK: Exactly. On the course, he does wear loud colors. He's got a kind of spiky haircut, and he'll put the shades on and wear bright yellows and reds. But off the course, he is very docile and sweet.
BLOCK: How would you describe his style of play?
Mr. HACK: It's very electric. He hits the ball a long way. He hits it very high. He's kind of one of the kids that have come up in the era of Tiger Woods. It's all about being in great shape. It's about looking good. It's about hitting the ball, you know, prodigious distances. And he really has an electric game that will probably serve him very well for a long time.
He's kind of in that generation of young players that are in their late teens or early 20s that are actually hitting the ball farther than Tiger and Phil and some of the names we're all used to hearing about.
BLOCK: Phil, Phil Mickelson.
Mr. HACK: Phil Mickelson, exactly.
BLOCK: Now, the last two years in Augusta, Ryo Ishikawa did not make the cut, right?
Mr. HACK: That is correct.
BLOCK: Things will be different this year, do you think?
Mr. HACK: It's interesting. He - this is a course that takes - it takes time to get to know. You know, this is a place where young players don't typically do very well. But this is his third go-around, and he's got a lot of pressure on his shoulders. But he's also playing for a cause greater than himself, which I think may help him in the long run.
He has the talent to get it done, but this is a tricky golf course.
BLOCK: Now, for Ryo Ishikawa to say he's going to donate all of his winnings this year to Japan disaster relief, how has that been received in the golfing community?
Mr. HACK: Oh, it's been a big story, Melissa. It's really a remarkable thing to hear that a 19-year-old would have the worldview and wherewithal to even understand things around him and what he means to his home country in Japan.
And it speaks to really how he wants to be viewed and how he wants to help his country. And I'll tell you what: It's really, really playing very well not just in Japan. It's also been really, really widely praised on the PGA Tour here in the States.
BLOCK: How much money are we talking about that he would be likely to donate?
Mr. HACK: A victory on the PGA Tour is often worth $900,000 American. A victory on a big major tournament like the Masters or the U.S. Open would be worth probably $1.3 million to $1.5 million. So these are big tournaments that he's playing in. And obviously, the better he plays, the more money he'll be able to donate to Japan.
BLOCK: Damon Hack, senior writer for Sports Illustrated, talking with me from Augusta, Georgia. Damon, thanks so much.
Mr. HACK: Thank you, Melissa.
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