PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Ryo Ishikawa showed up to Pebble Beach on Thursday dressed as pink as a bottle of Pepto-Bismol. On Friday, he must have had candy canes on his mind.
Funny thing is, the only one with a stomach ache should be the group of players on either side of Ishikawa on the Day 2 leaderboard at the U.S. Open.
The 18-year-old explosion of color shot 71 Friday, and at 1-under 141, is just two shots off the lead heading into the weekend of his first U.S. Open. He’s playing with little fear around Pebble Beach’s pint-sized greens and fescue-laced bunkers.
“My feeling is ‘go for it,’ ” Ishikawa said, referring to his strategy on the golf course, not necessarily his wardrobe choices. “I hope I can play more aggressive tomorrow and the next two days.”
I don’t think that will be a problem. On Thursday, Ishikawa ended his round on the 505-yard, par-4 ninth hole. Here’s how he played it: Driver, 361 yards. Wedge to 18 feet. Birdie putt in the center of the cup.
On Friday, he closed his round with a driver off the 18th tee, then waited for the green to clear before clocking a fairway-wood shot that ended up just short. A chip and two putts later and he was in the house with 71. A hole earlier, he hoisted a cloud-scraping 4-iron into the bath mat-sized 17th green – a surface that no one has seemed to be able to hold – and rolled in the 5-footer for birdie.
“I like 17,” Ishikawa said. “I couldn’t see where the ball landed after the first bounce, it was just a lucky bounce.”
According to Tom Watson, paired with Ishikawa for Rounds 1 and 2, luck has nothing to do with it.
“He has great touch,” Watson said. “He hits the ball very high. He hits the ball long enough. That combination – high, great putting and great touch – you’re going to win, not a question.”
Ishikawa is no stranger to victory lane. He’s collected seven Japan Tour titles since turning professional in 2007, including his victory in May at The Crowns, where he closed with a 58 to win by five shots. It was the lowest score ever recorded on a major tour.
However, until this week, he’s yet to find his footing in U.S. major championships. He’s missed the cut in three of his four prior major appearances – twice at Augusta, once at the British Open. He tied for 56th at the PGA Championship last August.
So, what’s changed this week?
“This course makes me try a lot of different shots that I’m not used to on the Japanese Tour,” Ishikawa said. “It makes me try a high ball, low ball, chip shot. And it’s also windy and there’s a lot of bunkers and the greens are very hard. So it’s very different than the Japanese Tour. So I’m learning. I’m learning every day. And I’m going to try to focus on my golf.”
A swarm of Japanese media engulfed Ishikawa after his round – as has been the norm wherever he plays – while Watson held court nearby with another group of media. The 1982 U.S. Open champ, now 60, said there’s no doubt Ishikawa can win come Sunday. In fact, 28 years ago, Watson was in a similar position, even par through two rounds. Two days later he won the United States Open.
Watson and Ishikawa shook hands near the scoring trailer, then headed in opposite directions. The exchange was brief, but left Ishikawa with a smile.
“Tom said to me that I will have a good future,” Ishikawa said.