January 11, 2008 / 6:21 AM / 13 years ago

Japan hails 16-year-old's pro golf switch

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese media heralded teenage golf sensation Ryo Ishikawa’s professional switch with a flurry of bold headlines on Friday, many screaming: “Bring on Tiger!”

Japanese schoolboy Ryo Ishikawa, 16, watches his tee shot on the ninth hole during the first round of the Dunlop Phoenix golf tournament in Miyazaki November 15, 2007. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

The high school student announced his decision to join the Japanese men’s tour at 16 years and three months at a packed news conference a day earlier.

“Little Ryo wants Woods!” declared the Sankei Sports daily, splashing pictures of a grinning Ishikawa across its pages. while the Nikkan Sports echoed an almost universal headline.

Ishikawa, widely seen as the potential saviour of the flagging JGTO men’s tour, is the youngest player to join Japan’s professional ranks.

He shot to fame in May last year, becoming the youngest winner on the Japanese tour at 15 years and eight months at the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup in a remarkable debut.

“From now on golf will be my job,” Ishikawa told reporters. “It’s a dream come true. I want to play against Tiger and win the U.S. Masters.”

Ishikawa promised his school teachers he would not neglect his studies after making a decision that could net him close to $10 million (5 million pounds) over the next five years.

Already a household name in Japan, television endorsements could earn Ishikawa an estimated $30 million in addition over the coming few years, according to estimates.

“I will get less chance to go to school but I won’t be dropping out,” he said, blushing in the glare of camera flashes.

“It will be difficult to juggle golf and studying but I’ll try. Turning professional is something I thought of only recently but it’s a way to say thank you to everyone for their support.”

Ishikawa’s tour victory last year shattered the previous record held by Spain’s Seve Ballesteros, who won the 1977 Japan Open aged 20 years and seven months.

The local press were quick to label Ishikawa the “Japanese Tiger” and his marketability gave the men’s tour a timely boost at a time when sponsorship and interest were on the wane.

Editing by Peter Rutherford

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