The Horror Back Home

MIAMI | Imagine for a moment that you are half a world away, far from family and friends, in a place where the language is not your own. You wake up one morning, turn on the television in your hotel room and watch in horror as video images of total devastation back home flicker across the screen. Buildings collapsing in an apocalyptic earthquake. Cars, trucks, boats and houses being swept away by a raging tsunami wave of utter destruction. Thousands dead. Many more missing.
And then, because of who you are and what you do, you click off the set, walk out the door and show up right on time to play a round of golf, even if your heart and head are thousands of miles away.
For three Japanese competitors in the WGC- Cadillac Championship – Ryo Ishikawa, Hiroyuki Fujita and Yuta Ikeda – that was the sobering scenario that played out this past frightening Friday morning at Doral, a lush resort in the Miami suburbs so far, far away from the almost unfathomable disaster. They stayed, and they played, even as the horrific images weighed so heavily on their minds.
For Ikeda, it was especially difficult. He was the golf captain at Tohuki Fukushi University in Shendai, 90 miles from the epicenter of the 8.9 magnitude earthquake that rocked Japan. He described the city as “my second hometown” and still has close ties to the college golf team. He said he’d been awakened at 3 a.m. by an e-mail from a friend informing him of the devastation, and never went back to sleep.
Ikeda, 25, tried with no success to telephone home in the hours before he was due to finish his storm delayed first round at 8:30 a.m. He had still not reached anyone by the time he was due to start the second round at 11:40, and after he had completed play late in the afternoon, he told reporters he had yet to hear from anyone back home.
“It is very, very, very difficult,” he said through an interpreter. “The tough part, the cell phones are still not working in Japan. I made many calls, but everyone I haven’t been able to contact, it doesn’t mean they are not accounted for. It just means I haven’t been able to contact them to make sure they are okay. I was born and raised in Chiba, but I went to school in Sendai and to see what you had to see on TV was very difficult to take in.”
Ikeda does not speak much English, but one of his playing partners, Martin Laird of Scotland, knew he had to be hurting.
“You don’t ever want to see those scenes any time on television,” Laird said. “You obviously feel for those people. I’m sure his mind wasn’t really on the golf tournament today. I can certainly understand that.”
The only good news for Ikeda came Friday night, when one of his calls finally connected and he was able to speak with his mother and his grandmother. “To hear their voices, it really relieved his concern,” said one Japanese journalist who spoke to him the next day.
Ishikawa’s mindset was eased somewhat before he began his second round by an e-mail message he received from his father back in a Toyko suburb, more than 250 miles from Sendai.
“The message was focus on your golf, we are fine,” he said through an interpreter. “Do what you have to do.”
Ishikawa, at 19 the youngest player in the field, was able to complete his first round Friday morning at 7-under 65, just a shot behind 18-hole leader Hunter Mahan. But with the wind up and conditions far more difficult in the afternoon, he came in with a 76 and was tied for 19th, and finished the event in xxth place after a Sunday xx.
He was asked if his second-round score reflected his concern about what was going on back home.
No, he shook his head. “It was more the Blue Monster decided to be what it’s known to be,” he said, adding that several players, including Ernie Els and Vijay Singh, had sought him out to ask about his family back in Japan. “I appreciated that. I tried to block everything out. But as you could imagine, it was a tough day.
“I’m worried for the whole country of Japan. The fact that I was finally able to communicate with my parents did help me feel so much better. It is not possible to block something of this magnitude out completely.”
Fujita, 39, also started his second round not knowing about his family. He said he finally received word everyone was safe as he played the sixth hole.
“I don’t know exactly what’s going on right now, but when I saw the TV, it was disastrous,” he said through an interpreter. “I couldn’t believe it. It is not in this world.”
The golfers also were not alone in their concern for what was going on back home. A large contingent of Japanese media – 44 reporters and photographers from 29 different outlets – covered the tournament. They also stayed and did their jobs, even as they, too, tried to contact friends and family back home.
“I think we are all still in shock,” said Reiko Takekawa, who is based in Los Angeles and writes for the Kyodo News. “As far as we know now, no one here (in the media) has lost anyone. But when you watch on television, it is very upsetting for all of us. Golf, it is not so important anymore.”


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