By Rick Woelfel / www.womensgolfreport.net
With the start of the 2013 LPGA season at hand Mika Miyazato has crossed the great divide that separates players who have won tournaments from those who have not.
The 23-year old Miyazato recorded her first LPGA victory last August in Portland at the Safeway Classic Presented by Coca Cola.
The win was hardly a surprise. Miyazato was a model of consistency throughout 2012, recording nine top-10 finishes in 20 LPGA starts while missing just three cuts. Today she’s a much more confident player than she was at this time last year.
“I feel that my confidence to the game has grown from my first win last year,” Miyazato said via e-mail. “My feelings to the tour now is that I have stepped up to another level, another start line and that I want to challenge to a bigger goal and to win more games.”
Miyazato comes into the 2013 season ranked 10th in the world according to the Rolex rankings as of February 4. She acknowledges that that’s a significant accomplishment but one that also presents her with a challenge.
“I was simply happy to be in the top 10 on the world ranking for my first time,” she said, “but I also found that there are still nine more players above me. Rankings are important, but it’s more important to focus on how to become a better player and to level up my skills to realize that. I think the ranking will gradually rise if I can keep working hard.”
A native of Okinawa, Japan, Miyazato was the youngest-ever winner of the Japan Women’s Amateur at age 14. She joined the LPGA Tour in 2009 at age 19 and has seen her scoring average drop each year.
In 2010 she recorded a pair of third-place finishes. The following year she finished 14th or better in all four major championships and donated her winnings from those tournaments, along with a portion of her JLPGA earnings to earthquake and tsunami relief efforts in her homeland.
Last season, in addition to her win, she placed in the top 10 in three of the four majors, including a tie for second at the Wegmans LPGA Championship. She finished 11th on the Official Money List with just over $1 million in earnings and was 10th in scoring average at 70.939 strokes per round.
Miyazato is now linked to her homeland’s rich golf tradition. The LPGA made its first stop in Japan in 1973. That tournament became an official event three years later as the Mizuno Japan Classic.
That same year, 1976 Chako Higuchi became the first Japanese player to win an official LPGA event when she captured the Colgate European Open at historic Sunningdale Golf Club in England. The following Higuchi, now a World Golf Hall of Fame member, claimed the LPGA Championship in North Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Ayako Okamoto, later a Hall of Famer herself, joined the LPGA Tour in 1981 and went on to win 17 tournaments over the course of a career than lasted more than two decades. In 1987 she topped the Official Money List.
Today Miyazato helps carry that legacy of success forward.
“I think the people in Japan realize that the LPGA Tour is the biggest and the best Tour,” she says, “where top players from all over the world are playing.” There are young golfers in Japan who dream to play for this Tour and to become a world-class player some day as well.
“I feel that I am representing Japanese women golfers to play for this Tour and I feel proud of myself and honored from that.”
The LPGA will return to Japan this fall, a part of a schedule that will see the make stops in 12 nations apart from the United States and Canada.
For her part, Miyazato embraces her role in popularizing her sport around the globe.
“I want the women’s golf to be more popular and well known all over the world,” she said. “To make this come true, LPGA Tour plays a great part and to play games worldwide is very meaningful.”
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