Japan’s Miyazato back on track after taxing 2011 season
It may have not been obvious by looking at her, but Ai Miyazato played with a heavy heart in 2011.
The Japanese former world No. 1 saw her country ravaged by an earthquake and tsunami in March that killed more than 15,000 people and spent the remainder of the season searching for peace as her nation suffered. She was actually in the air on a flight to Tokyo when the earthquake hit, and she experienced the aftermath firsthand.
Because of those horrific events, 2011 was a season like none other, as Miyazato not only dealt with the rigors of competing on Tour each week, but also with the heartache for her native land.
Results-wise, Miyazato had another of her customarily superb seasons, making 16 of 19 cuts and tallying six top-10s, including a win at the Evian Masters. But emotionally, it was a taxing and exhausting season for the nine-time LPGA Tour champion.
“Last year was a difficult year for me and probably many, if not all, Japanese people after the earthquake/tsunami,” said Miyazato, who wore a button that carried the phrase “Never Give Up Japan” throughout the season. “It had a huge effect on me because I usually try to focus on myself, but last year, I always had Japan in my heart and I played to provide some good news back to Japan. While that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, I wasn’t in a normal state of mind because my focus was result-oriented, whereas usually I’m more focused on things under my control.
“But once I got clear in my head about what I need to do, I was able to play better and win Evian.”
She finished the 2011 season eighth on the LPGA money list with more than $1 million, but more importantly, she joined forces with fellow Japanese players Mika Miyazato and Momoko Ueda to raise money for victims of the earthquake and tsunami through a fundraising website.
“Our goal was to reach out to as many people in the world as possible, not just the people in Japan, especially because we are Japanese golfers playing in a foreign tour,” Miyazato said. “And it felt natural in times like that to work together and I believe it was a success. But there is still a long way to go until full recovery, so I’m not going to end this as a short-term aid.”
Miyazato recalibrated herself in the offseason and came into 2012 ready to challenge for the Tour’s top spot once again.
“I had a very restful off season this year with good practice and training in January, so that’s why I think I’m having a good season so far this year,” said Miyazato, who has more than $6.8 million in career earnings.
Miyazato has made 12 of 14 cuts this year, with a pair of wins in Hawaii and Arkansas, and stands second on the LPGA Tour money list with $1,095,723 in earnings. Ranked No. 1 in the world for part of 2010, Miyazato is currently fifth in the world rankings and has some goals in mind for the rest of the season and the long-term.
“My goal this year was to win a major, so I still have one more chance,” she said. “I would need to play very solidly and consistently to overtake the No. 1 position. It would be great if I did, but I’m just gonna take it one tournament at a time.”
Finding balance on and off the course is another general aim for Miyazato.
“I’d like to be a major champion, but I also want to have a good balance of tournament play and relaxing and restful time in the off weeks,” Miyazato said. “I think it is impossible to keep your mind on golf all the time, so having a good refreshing time in between tournaments will be key for me rest of the season.”
Miyazato has recently become more passionate about a new hobby to occupy her time away from the course.
“I have really gotten into cooking lately,” she said. “I live by myself and since I go out all the time when I’m on the road, I began cooking when I’m home. I cook mostly Japanese food, and I’ve still got some work to be really confident, but it’s fun!”
Miyazato joined the LPGA in 2006 after dominating the Japanese LPGA Tour and spent three years adjusted to a new country and new tour before earning her first LPGA victory. She’s been one of the Tour’s top players ever since and feels comfortable on the LPGA.
“I’m not sure if I’d use the word ‘frustrating’ to describe my first three years on tour,” she said. “Adjusting to a new lifestyle, culture, language, tour and others was anything but easy for me. But I learned a lot about myself after coming over to the States, and I’m glad I made the decision to play on the LPGA Tour.
“I feel like I am a part of the Tour and have many friends, so I feel very comfortable. It’s been a dream of mine to play on the LPGA Tour since I was little, and having accomplished it and to be living in the States, I really can’t complain at all.