Ai Miyazato will come full circle this week at the Evian Championship when she competes in it for the final time.
Miyazato began her L.P.G.A. career with a victory at the Evian, and she will end it this week when she retires as a competitive professional at age 32. When she was asked what milestones and memories stand out in her 14-year career, these were her top 5.
Winning Evian in 2009
Miyazato was already a golf superstar in Japan when she arrived in the United States in 2006, but it was not until her fourth season on the L.P.G.A. Tour that she was able to break through for her first win at the 2009 Evian Championship. Before her Evian victory, Miyazato had won 15 tournaments in Japan and she had 16 top-10 finishes on the L.P.G.A. Tour, including one runner-up finish in 2007.
Becoming No. 1
When Miyazato became the world’s No. 1-ranked player in 2010, it was a first for a Japanese golfer. She moved into the top position after four wins in the first nine L.P.G.A. tournaments that year and was No. 1 for a total of 11 weeks. Cristie Kerr took over the top spot a week after Miyazato’s ascent and held the top ranking for three weeks until Miyazato won for a fifth time in August to regain No. 1. Kerr regained the top spot in late October.
Winning as a Teenager
Miyazato captured her first headlines in June 2003 when, at the age of 18, she won the Japan Women’s Amateur Golf Championship. In September of that year, she was a high school student when she played as an amateur and won the Dunlop Ladies Open, a sanctioned tournament on the L.P.G.A. of Japan Tour.
After turning professional in late 2003, Miyazato went on to win five Japan L.P.G.A. events in 2004, and six tournaments in 2005, becoming its second-ranked player. Also in 2005, at age 20, she became the tour’s youngest player to win a major title, the Japan Women’s Open Championship.
Making Friends on Tour
Miyazato’s peers easily rank her as No. 1 among players who embrace the public aspect of their job. Always quick to smile, Miyazato includes “players, caddies, coaches, tournament staff, volunteers, spectators and L.P.G.A. staff” as those she will miss when she retires. She has even described those individuals to the news media as a “part of my big family.” And when it comes to regularly speaking with the ever-present Asian news media, Miyazato is pragmatic, saying, “I have so many golf fans back home in my country that this is the only way I can talk to them, through the Japanese media.”
Traveling the World
Some players struggle with the travel required of touring pros, but Miyazato said the L.P.G.A.’s global tournament schedule “enriched my life as a person.”
Growing up in a small Okinawa village, Miyazato showed a willingness to embrace Western culture as soon as she arrived in the United States. Unlike her superstar predecessor, Ayako Okamoto, who spoke English sparingly and rarely to news media, Miyazato thrived whether she was in Michigan or Malaysia. Her global vision allowed her to easily reach out to golf fans around the world and, in turn, they often reached back.