Japan Loves Cute, re deux

19 10 2007

Japanese golf is in quite a bit of difficulty. The tour is down to 24 events, down from 44 in the boom years of the 90s. Whilst still being the 3rd largest tour in the world, the prize money has not kept pace with that of the PGA and European Golf tours. Add to that, 5 sponsors bailed on the tour after the close of the 2006 season. Even the beverage giant Suntory left, a long-time regular in the sponsor’s lists. The Japan Golf Tour is in a downward spiral.

ai-miyazato.jpgProviding a stark contrast to this is the growth of the JLPGA. The ladies’ game in Japan has grown rapidly. There are now 37 tour events, and it is the 2nd most lucrative tour in the world (behind the LPGA). They have 3 huge events – the Japan Open, the JLPGA Championship and the JLPGA Tour Championship – and one event is even co-sanctioned by the LPGA, The Mizuno Classic.

The women’s game has grown steadily with the influx of young stars such as Ai Miyazato – who have injected a much needed boost to the sport in Japan. With Miyazato competing in the LPGA as well as the JLPGA has provided interest, and instilled the belief that Japanese women, if not the men, can compete on the world stage. The JLPGA tour is strong, and only looking to get stronger.

So… what is the men’s tour to do?
It would seem that they are likely to hitch their wagon to up-and-coming star, Ryo Ishikawa, the ‘Shy Prince’.
Ishikawa won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup in May of this year, at the ripe ol’ age of 15. In winning this, he became the youngest amateur in the world to win a pro-tour event, and won the hearts of schoolgirls and housewives alike with his demure attitude and humble interviews.

Ishikawa has won 4 amateur events this year, and has had respectable finishes in the pro-events he’s played in. His presence in the pro tour has led to an increase in galleries, and a rise in the interest in the men’s game – something that has been desperately lacking in recent years.
According to sources within the golf industry, the presence of Ishikawa is already paying dividends, with new sponsors – including Toyota – agreeing to join next year’s tour.
It was recently announced that Ishikawa would compete in the tour’s last event of the season – the Japan Series JT Cup, beginning November 29th. Already interest in the event has outstripped that of last year’s event.

Turning professional now, Ishikawa could net literally millions of dollars in sponsorship alone… but as yet, he’s but a first grade student in high school. Whilst eying the success story that Ai Miyazato provided, Ishikawa should keep in mind the cautionary tale that Michelle Wie provides.

Ryo Ishikawa - the face of men’s golf in Japan?Ishikawa brings something to the men’s tour in Japan that has been sorely lacking over the past decade or so. Marketability. Image-conscious Japan needs a face to attach to it’s sports, and Ishikawa fits that role – in spite of (or perhaps because of?) his young age. There’ll be many years beyond now for him to fulfill his potential.

One thing’s for sure: Japan’s obsession with ‘cute’ is satisfied with the presence of the Shy Prince.

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16 responses

19 10 2007
The Constructivist

Nice post. Not just Ai-chan fuelling this. Momoko Ueda, Sakura Yokomine, Shinobu Moromizato and several other young ‘uns are finally realizing their potential, too. I wonder if it’s more likely they’ll join her on the LPGA or she’ll rejoin them on the JLPGA….

19 10 2007
withmalice

Hey Constructivist – thanks for the kind words.
Want to have a picture or two up, but currently we’re experiencing ‘technical difficulties’. 😛

20 10 2007
james

re deux? not redux?

20 10 2007
Cheap Shots #74: NFL, North of the Border? « Signal to Noise

[…] How the men’s golf tour in Japan proceeds given the popularity of its ladies’ tour. [With Malice] […]

20 10 2007
PartMule

I did a story on this kid awhile back. He’s got some potential!

http://partmule.com/blog16/2007/07/19/ryo_super_hero/

20 10 2007
withmalice

@James – pretty sure that’s the actual French … but I might be wrong (wouldn’t be the first time!)…

@S2N – thanks for the link man!

@Part Mule – yeah, did my first piece on him on June 21st. You can read it here if you like! 😉

20 10 2007
PartMule

Kudos to the piece…and the other piece. You’ve obviously got Japan covered long and deep.

20 10 2007
withmalice

Thanks bud, helps living here I guess…

20 10 2007
Top Posts « WordPress.com

[…] Japan Loves Cute, re deux Japanese golf is in quite a bit of difficulty. The tour is down to 24 events, down from 44 in the boom years of the […] […]

20 10 2007
The Constructivist

Pictures of Ueda: good thing. BTW, Paula Creamer is playing in Japan this week instead of in Korea. As an ex-champ, I can see why, but she has not dominated the previous times she’s played there this year. If you can get a preview of the Mizuno up early, you’d get a lot of hits–I’m findng nada in ingles and it’s only 2 weeks away.

22 10 2007
Cal

Interesting piece Don.

The Australian tour would kill to have this “problem” (only 22 tournaments).

Paul McNamee is trying to market the Ladies Tour in Aus using the sexy/attractive line and it seemed to work last year with slightly bigger crowds. Hopefully they will attract more interest again this year and really get things rolling.

MFS Australian Womens Open is at Kingston heath this year and as it’s only down the road from me I’ll be heading over. Should be fun to watch.

22 10 2007
withmalice

Golf’s hugely popular in Japan, it’s still seen as a mark of status to have that ‘Golf Club Membership’. Still hugely expensive too. Just to play a casual 18 (inclusive of lunch, buggy hire, green fees et al – and no choice in what you pay) costs well in excess of a few hundred dollars at it’s cheapest.
And 37 Ladies Tour events!!!

Still, the main difference is the population, and the market that supports that population. Golf is still seen (especially on the ladies side) as a good way to get your company noticed.

22 10 2007
Cal

Quote “And 37 Ladies Tour events!!!”

Sorry, misreading and making up numbers as I go along (embarrased)

22 10 2007
withmalice

All good Cal… I thought you were making comment in reference to the men’s tour (which is at 24)…

28 10 2007
typecubicles » Blog Archive » Japan Loves Cute, re deux

[…] here for full […]

2 11 2007
Japan » Blog Archives » November Theme: The Color Blue -- Here's Flat Stanley, come to ...

[…] Japan Loves Cute, re deuxIshikawa brings something to the men’s tour in Japan that has been sorely lacking over the past decade or so. Marketability. Image-conscious Japan needs a face to attach to it’s sports, and Ishikawa fits that role – in spite of (or … […]

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