By Damon HackSenior writer, Sports Illustrated
Forgive me if I’m skeptical about teenage prodigies. In 2002, I was in Phoenix to watch the professional debut of Ty Tryon, who hit booming drives and had Callaway on his bag and disappeared from the PGA Tour as quickly as he arrived. In 2005, I was in the Coachella Valley for Michelle Wie’s first pro event, where an improper drop and a DQ set the tone for the rollercoaster that has been her career.
Which brings us to 17-year-old Ryo Ishikawa of Japan, who will make his PGA Tour debut Thursday at Riviera and, two months from now, will play in the Masters. Ishikawa won a
Japan Golf Tour event at 15, and he could one day be a special player, but I want to see how he handles the pressure of the deepest tour in the world. I watched Ishikawa hit balls on the range Tuesday, and he has a great action. (Even Bubba Watson stopped hitting balls to take a look.) Nearly 100 cameras followed Ishikawa wherever he went: the course, the range, the putting green, the media tent. He tees off on No. 1 at 8:45 a.m. local time. I’ll be watching.
I’m also going to check out Vincent Johnson, the first winner of the Charlie Sifford Exemption, which gives a spot in the field to a player who represents diversity in golf. Johnson, a graduate of Oregon State, tees off on No. 10 at 8:45 local
I’m going to watch Fred Couples because few places fit him better than Riviera. Both are old-school cool.
Finally, I’ll be watching to see if the defending champion, Phil Mickelson, has gotten ahold of some smelling salts. Time to wake up, Phil! The season has started.