PEBBLE BEACH, California // If Ryo Ishikawa needed reassurance about his emerging golf career, he got it from none other than eight-time major winner Tom Watson. After playing together in the second round on Friday, the two stood in the scorer's trailer after coming off the 18th green at Pebble Beach and shared some friendly words.
Watson reached out for a handshake and wished the 18-year-old Japanese star well. "Tom said to me that I will have a good future," Ishikawa said. The stylish Ishikawa, who tends to wear bright clothes and a cheery expression, found himself among the leaders halfway through his US Open debut. Ishikawa followed his one-under opening round by shooting an even-par 71 on Friday for an impressive two-day score of 141. He was in a four-way tie for second with Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Dustin Johnson, two shots behind Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland.
Ishikawa hoped to ride that momentum right into a strong weekend. He has adjusted his shots for a tough course along the Pacific Coast that he said is nothing like the ocean-side links he plays back home. Ishikawa wore all pink on Thursday - a pink zip-up sweater, pink slacks and pink shoes. On Friday, he toned it down a tad with a cherry-red zip-up sweater and off-white pants. He is making the right kind of splash at Pebble, where even some of the best golfers in this bunch are splattering balls into the ocean or hitting off cliffs into the rocks or beach below. Davis Love III did it on the 18th tee on Friday, playing in the group ahead of Ishikawa.
Ishikawa birdied the par-three, 208-yard 17th that has been creating all kinds of problems for others in the field so far. "I like it. I like 17," Ishikawa said with a smile speaking perfect English, though he did receive help from Jumpei Kaneko, an interpreter, for other responses. "I hit a four-iron today and I couldn't see where the ball landed after the first bounce. It was just a lucky bounce. The putting was very straight. Straight, right in, so yesterday and today I was very lucky."
His game consists of much more than luck. Ishikawa turned pro in 2007 and has won seven titles on the Japan Tour. At The Crowns event last month in Togo, Japan, he shot a 12-under 58 for the lowest score ever on a major tour. He made 12 birdies in a bogey-free round on the 6,545-yard Nagoya Golf Club course. Ishikawa surprised even himself with that one. Now, everybody else is catching on to his potential. A newcomer no more.
"Ryo played fantastically," said Rory McIlroy, also in Ishikawa's threesome. "He made a lot of putts. If he can keep his short game the way it is, I can definitely see him competing this weekend." Ishikawa attracts the same kind of Japanese media crowd that follows famous baseball players such as Daisuke Matsuzaka or Hideki Matsui, but he handles the attention with the poise of someone well beyond his years.
Does he feel pressure on his sport's big stage? His motto is more about pushing himself to be the best he can be, rather than creating huge expectations this early in his career - or letting outside distractions derail his goals. "I don't know if it's the right word, but my feeling is go for it," Ishikawa said. "So, challenging is something to me, and especially in the tournaments outside Japan, it doesn't mean anything if I don't challenge things."
After struggling with his short game during the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am here in February, Ishikawa went back to Japan and vowed to be better on Pebble's unforgiving greens when he returned. "And this week I'm doing great on putting," he said. Before he departed on Friday, Ishikawa quickly signed a ball and handed it to Watson's son and caddie, Michael. "I really appreciate it," Michael Watson said, reaching out his hand. "Keep up the good play."
It's hard not to like Ishikawa. He's fresh, real. Ishikawa said he hears and appreciates all the Japanese fans in the gallery and their cheers of "gambatte!" ? which translates as "Go for it!" or "Try your best!" "He's extraordinary," Ernie Els said. "He played in the Presidents Cup last year, and I really got to know him well there. He's a great kid. It's amazing that he's only 18. "He's already shot 58 this year. Just think about it, shooting 58 in the Tour over there in Japan at 18, it's phenomenal. He's a really good player, great kid. There's a lot of youngsters coming through. I think what Tiger has done, a lot of these kids want to do what he's done, so they come out early and they're aggressive and they're confident."
Ishikawa's plan: keep it up for another two days. "I hope I can play more aggressive tomorrow and the next two days," he said. "I hope I can focus on my golf, just on my golf."