Who Was the Biggest Winner of Them All at the 2009 Presidents Cup?

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistOctober 12, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 10: Ryo Ishikawa of Japan and the International Team walks from the 6th tee followed by Tiger Woods of the USA Team during the Day Three Afternoon Fourball Matches in The Presidents Cup at Harding Park Golf Course on October 10, 2009 in San Francisco, California  (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Tiger Woods went 5-0-0 in the Presidents Cup, including a convincing 6 and 4 victory over his newfound nemesis, Y.E. Yang, on Sunday.

Phil Mickelson went 4-1-1 and could have probably taken on the entire International team in a best ball match and still come out on top.

In a putting performance that Woods himself referred to as one of the best he’s ever seen, the combined length of birdie putts Steve Stricker sunk over the past four days would have allowed him to cross the entire Golden Gate.

Tim Clarke looked as if he’d mastered golf on Nintendo Wii last week. After all, it’s not humanly possible for someone to hit their short irons that well in real life…is it? 

But, at the end of a week that included a slew of jaw dropping performances, it was 18-year-old Ryo Ishikawa that left San Francisco as the biggest winner of them all.


Because what Woods, Mickelson, and Stricker accomplished at Harding Park Golf Course last week was exactly what you’d expect from the top three players in the world.

Clarke has been considered one of the best short iron players in the world for years now. If there was any surprise in Clarke’s play, it was his unusually steady putter.

Ishikawa, however, was the biggest question mark of them all heading into the 2009 Presidents Cup matches.

Well, perhaps Greg Norman’s separation from Chris Evert and how Adam Scott could have possibly fallen 62 spots in the World Golf rankings in 15 months were the biggest questions heading into the week…but, Ishikawa was up there.

No one knew much about Ishikawa other than that he was very young, very wealthy, very successful on the Japanese Tour, and his game had a tendency to stay behind in Japan whenever he traveled to Europe or the United States.    

How would the 18-year-old handle the pressure of the Presidents Cup matches? 

Would Ishikawa’s game travel with him to San Francisco?

How would he get along with his teammates?  

Was he really as good as his record in Japan and world golf ranking suggested?

These were all question surrounding Ishikawa as he arrived in San Francisco early last week, and were all questions he emphatically answered with both his clubs and the way in which he handled himself off the course. 

First and foremost, Ishikawa has absolutely no problem handling intense pressure. He faced off against Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker twice during the first three days of play, and he performed exceptionally well on each occasion.

Second, Ishikawa’s game does travel. Perhaps he didn’t play too well in the Masters and British Open because he was, at the time, a 17-year-old kid attending his first major championships.

Third, his teammates seemed to genuinely enjoy getting to know the young man who’s known in Japan as “the bashful prince;” and American fans and media were utterly impressed with his ability and strong effort to speak English during interviews in the media center and on national television.

Here in America, we often expect others to speak English and are a little put off when they don’t.

However, will Tiger Woods be speaking Chinese when he’s interviewed at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai?

Will Phil Mickelson attempt to speak Mandarin, Chinese, Malay, or Tamil when he attends the Singapore Open in a few weeks?

You see, this is a two-way street, particularly in a world that is becoming increasingly flat. Ishikawa’s marked improvement in the way he speaks English as well as his strong desire to continue learning the language is something that should be applauded; and quite frankly, is almost as impressive as the way he routinely drains 25-foot birdie putts.

And finally, yes, he’s every bit as good as his record and position in the world golf rankings suggest.

“He's by far much more developed in his game than I ever was at 18 years old,” Tiger Woods said of Ishikawa on Saturday at Harding Park.

“For him to go out there and carry himself the way he has this entire Presidents Cup; it's been fun to be a part of and watch and how he competes. And the way he's able to control his golf ball, the way he's able to putt and chip is far better than any 18-year-old that I've ever seen.”

From tee to green, Ishikawa’s game was certainly impressive.  But what really stood out last week was his extraordinary ability on and around the greens.  

As we all know, there are tons of excellent ball-strikers out there. What separates the good players from the great ones comes down to one single club—the putter.

Ishikawa’s fearless demeanor on the greens at Harding Park was something not seen since a young man by the name of Eldrick was steamrolling through his competition at the U.S. Amateur.

Prior to the 2009 Presidents Cup, Ryo Ishikawa was a name known only to avid golf fans. 

But, following his performance last week in San Francisco, it has become abundantly clear that Ryo Ishikawa is a name that will be well known to the entire sports world in the very near future.

“Obviously having played with great players all over the world this week, I'll be looking forward to playing with them in the future and I'll be looking forward to playing in America and in foreign lands,” Ishikawa said during his press conference on Sunday evening.

“I think playing in other countries is going to help my golf game, and obviously in the end, I would like to play on the PGA Tour and be able to play with the guys that I played with this week.”

Ryo, we will undoubtedly be seeing a lot more of you in the years to come.