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WILMINGTON, North Carolina (Reuters) - Japan's Ryo Ishikawa, once one of the brightest young talents in golf, is struggling to retain his PGA Tour exemption after a back injury and loss of form with his driver.
Ishikawa has only seven tournaments, including this week, to earn $354,700 (or 218 FedEx Cup points) to keep his card as he plays his way back via a medical extension after missing about five months last year.
Needing a top-three finish, or perhaps a couple of top-10s, the 25-year-old did not help his cause by bogeying two of his final four holes for an opening four-over-par 76 at the Wells Fargo Championship on Thursday.
He was nonetheless was patient enough to spend nearly 30 minutes afterwards talking to Japanese reporters, who still hang on his every word even though he has long been supplanted as Japan’s best player by world number four Hideki Matsuyama.
“I’m still trying to fix my golf swing, driver through middle-iron,” Ishikawa told Reuters.
“My short iron and around the green and putting it works not too bad but my long game is not consistent. I’m not afraid to hit hard, but still golf ball’s not straight, right-to-left, left-to-right sometimes.”
Ishikawa first won on the Japan Tour a decade ago as a 15-year-old amateur and has since added 13 more titles on his home circuit.
He shot a record 58 on the Japan Tour on the same day as Rory McIlroy carded 62 to win the 2010 Wells Fargo. At the time they were often mentioned in the same breath, but while McIlroy has kicked on and then some, Ishikawa has not.
With his slight stature, he does not naturally hit the ball as far as many of his peers, which has perhaps hindered his progress.
Nonetheless, he still retains hopes of representing his country in the Olympics on home soil in 2020.
"I’ve played team events, including Presidents Cup and World Cup ... but not in Japan, always other countries," he said.
"If I played the Olympics in Tokyo in three years, that would be fantastic."
In the meantime, he was trying to remain upbeat, despite the stress of struggling to retain his playing status on Tour.
"To just enjoy golf and have fun, that’s always my goal,” he said.
Editing by Nick Mulvenney