The Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard was the setting for a potentially historic photograph Wednesday, as 17-year-old rising Japanese star Ryo Ishikawa - known as the Bashful Prince for his unassuming demeanor - came to meet the King of golf, the tournament host, Arnold Palmer.
"To have our young friend from Japan here to play is great," Palmer said later in a press conference. "I hope he has a good week and enjoys the game."
"We're certainly very pleased. I've heard everything from (him being) a young Tiger Woods to just a really great young man, and having met him and talked to him, he has a great personality. I see from what he's done playing golf that his future is very bright, and not just in Japan but around the world."
Ishikawa arrived at Palmer's second-story executive offices at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge at 9:40 a.m., precisely the appointed time. Ushered to the King's corner office, Ishikawa shook hands with Palmer then in perfect English expressed his appreciation for the invitation.
Palmer took a lapel pin with his umbrella logo and attached it to Ishikawa’s shirt and also gave him several logoed ball markers. Then they headed downstairs for the photo opportunity in front of a large gathering of photographers and television cameramen, mostly from Ishikawa’s home country, who have been following his American tour.
In a press conference later, Ishikawa said: “I (was) so honored when I received Mr. Palmer’s invitation to this tournament. It is going to be my lifetime treasure. I just met Mr. Palmer this morning. It was my wonderful memory, and it’s hard to explain how I feel at the moment. But I could feel he’s a warm-hearted person, just shaking hands.”
At Palmer’s request, the PGA Tour designated Ishikawa to receive an exemption reserved for foreign players in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. “I’ve had a relationship in Japan that has gone on for many, many years,” Palmer said. “When something happens like this young man, who is a real hero, it is obvious that we’re going to hear about it and hear how good he is.”
Ishikawa made history in 2007 when, as a 15-year-old high school freshman, he became the youngest champion ever on one of the world’s major golf tours, winning the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup on the Japan Tour. He became a professional last year and won again at the mynavi ABC Championship and placed second in the Japan Open. He was fifth on the 2008 Japan Tour money list and earned $1,074,469 converted to U.S. dollars. He is presently ranked No. 69 in the world.
While Palmer’s was the first, Ishikawa also accepted invitations from the Masters Tournament and two other PGA Tour events, the Northern Trust Open and the Transitions Championship. “I’ve been in Florida for two weeks now, and I’ve found that orange juice tastes great, and hamburger. So I’m enjoying America,” he said.
This is Ishikawa’s second visit to Bay Hill. Four years ago, he played in an AJGA junior event here.