Mika Miyazato joined an elite group of LPGA Tour pros when she became a Rolex First-Time Winner at the Safeway Classic Presented by Coca-Cola last August.
It had been a four-year wait for the Japan native, who joined the LPGA Tour in 2009, but the win was hardly a surprise for someone who was a model of consistency throughout the 2012 season. The 23-year-old had notched nine top-10 finishes including five top-7’s leading up to her first career victory, not to mention three top-10s in four major championships last year.
She was quickly recognized as the next Japanese standout.
This week, Miyazato carries that honor as she beams with excitement in her pursuit towards a successful title defense.
“I feel a little nervous, but more excited to be honest,” said Miyazato of her first title defense. “This is the first time for me to play as a defending champion and it's a very special feeling for me, so I want to enjoy it.”
Miyazato makes her fifth appearance at the Safeway Classic this week, but this time under new circumstances. The Columbia Edgewater Country Club will serve as this year’s venue for the tournament and will also feature a new four-day layout. While the revamped conditions are hardly a concern for Miyazato, she also faces the challenge of getting her game back in gear following some changes during the off season.
“It's been a tough season for me until now, as there were some changes from last year like using new clubs and ball, but it happens,” said Miyazato. “I feel my golf has been getting use to the clubs from May and my shots have become stable than before. I am becoming more confident now and hopefully it will lead to good results.”
Miyazato had a rocky start to her 2013 campaign, failing to break into the top-30 in her first six tournaments. But after missing the cut at the North Texas LPGA Shootout, Miyazato’s old self was on display through abnormal playing conditions at the Pure-Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic where she tied for fourth. Although getting adjusted to her new game came slowly, Miyazato claims it’s the only way to keep up with the top players in the world.
“I think we need to work hard on these games all the time to be competitive,” said Miyazato.
Although it may have taken four years for Miyazato to get recognition on the LPGA Tour, her name still lingers as one of the most successful junior and amateur golfers in her native Okinawa, Japan. At 14 years old, Miyazato became the youngest winner of the Japan Women’s Amateur Championship in 2004 and won back-to-back Japan Junior Championship in 2006 and 2007. She has since carried that success through her professional career, leaving a legacy for the next generation of Japanese golfers.
“It's an honor to be playing as one of the successful Japanese players, and I am happy that good players are increasing and becoming more competitive,” said Miyazato of the seven Japanese players on the LPGA Tour. “I hope this will continue and there will be more players coming from Japan to compete at the top of the world.”
Miyazato has come a long way since the first time she picked up a club at 8 years old. Now a five-year member of the LPGA Tour, she contests that the challenges in her career help shape the golfer she is today.
“Playing at the top level in the world is a tough thing, but at the same time, I enjoy myself here and it makes a person grow in many ways,” said Miyazato. “The way of thinking, how to make a goal and trying for that, everything is at the top level and very challenging, but I am happy to be in that environment.”