One of the most popular players on the LPGA Tour is calling it quits. Ai Miyazato, the Japanese player who won nine times on tour and reached No.1 in the world, will retire at the end of the 2017 season, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported Friday. Miyazato will hold a press conference in Japan on Monday to make it official.
A bright star who was noted for her spectacular short game and ubiquitous smile, Miyazato, who turns 32 on June 19, posted 59 top-10 finishes in her career. But her lack of length off the tee (she currently ranks 130th in driving distance with an average of 241.47) kept her out of the winner’s circle after 2012.
This year, she’s made the cut in four of five starts but her best finish is T34 at the Lotte Championship.
“I’m kind of sad, actually,” Stacy Lewis said on Friday after hearing the news. “Ai is a friend. We’ve played a lot of golf together over the last nine years. But I’m excited for her. I’m sure there are a lot of opportunities for her at home (in Japan) to grow the game.
“It’s hard to put into words (the influence she had in Japan),” Lewis said. “She really opened the door for a lot of Japanese players to come over (to the U.S.) and play well. She showed them what it would take. When nobody else was doing it, she came over here and played and played well. She is a great ambassador for our tour. I loved playing with her. She’s a great competitor who we’ll all miss.”
Ambassador is the perfect description of Miyazato. And not just for Japanese players. Meet her once and she will remember your name forever. When she sees you again, she will make eye contact and say hello.
That’s a role model for all professionals – one that will be sorely missed.