KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY, SAUDI ARABIA | An American caddie by the name of David Johnson pointed out an improbable scenario on the range. Namely, that his player and the newcomer practising to his immediate right prior to this week’s Saudi International each have a famous golfing sister.
Yusaku Miyazato, Johnson’s employer, is the older brother of Ai Miyazato, the former LPGA player and past world No. 1 who retired in 2017 and recently married her manager, Takumi Zaoya. As for Min Woo Lee, who turned professional earlier this month, he is the younger brother of Minjee Lee, currently the world’s sixth-ranked woman.
It turned out that neither player minded giving best to his golfing sister. “I feel so proud of what Ai achieved and so’s the entire family,” said Yusaku, who at 38 is five years the older and shares the same birthday – June 19.
Moving on to the 20-year-old Min Woo, the Australian-reared South Korean declared, “I just love every aspect of the way my sister plays. And it’s no surprise to me at all that she’s so highly ranked.”
Yusaku, when he sat down at the end of his practice session, talked a lot about his sibling’s mental game. “I never,” he began, “played with Ai a whole lot when we were growing up, but six years ago we went together to study mind control with Vision54. I kept the visits up for three years but Ai did not need the same level of help as I did. Her secret was that she didn’t think about golf. She was always thinking about happy things.”
At that point, Johnson, the caddie, could not desist from saying that he had been in awe of Yusaku’s mental approach when they were working together at last year’s Open at Carnoustie. At one point, when Johnson delivered the news that Yusaku’s ball had probably rolled into a bunker, the player had looked up and said a serene, “It’s OK; everything’s OK.”
On Monday, Yusaku chuckled at that memory and explained that it had been a Vision54-inspired comment.
“Pia Nilsson,” he said of one half of the Vision54 psychology team, “had told me that I had a beautiful wife and two lovely children and that I should never be getting upset about my golf.” (For the record, Yusaku made the cut at Carnoustie, only to follow a Saturday 65 with a weather-beaten 77.)
Having won the Japan Golf Tour Order of Merit in 2017, Yusaku finished in the top 110 on the European Tour last year and will be making good use of his card this season. In truth, he is aiming his game at the senior tour and beyond; he plans to compete until he is 80.
“It was because I so admired what Minjee was achieving that, when I was 16, I dropped all my other sports and began to take my golf seriously.” – Min Woo Lee
Though Ai has altered the picture somewhat in that she has played golf only once in the last three months, Yusaku explained that the Miyazato family have embraced golf like no other. He spoke of his older brother, Kiyoshi, who won once on the Japanese tour, but has latterly been struggling to make cuts, before referencing his parents. “And now I have a story for you,” he began. “My father, Masaru, may be the man who taught us, but he knew nothing about golf until the day he asked my mother, Toyoko, for a date.”
Toyoko recommended they go to the driving range and, though she could hardly have been impressed with his trio of opening air shots, this 9- or 10-handicap lady taught him to the point where he became the fully qualified teaching professional that he is today.
Min Woo Lee, when he took a break from smashing drives under the Arabian wind, wasted no time in waxing lyrical about his golfing upbringing alongside a girl called Minjee.
Whereas golf was life for all the Miyazatos as they were growing up, Lee spoke of how he and Minjee got off to very different starts in Australia. In his eyes at least, there was not much in the way of parental pushing, “though if anyone was pushed, it would have been Minjee. Not that she needed it because she was so incredibly disciplined. It’s just that my mum would always look after her at tournaments while I tended to head off to my amateur events with a friend.
“It was because I so admired what Minjee was achieving that, when I was 16, I dropped all my other sports and began to take my golf seriously.” (So seriously that he won the 2016 US Junior Amateur.)
When it came to getting the European Tour starts that he had towards the end of his amateur days, had it helped that he was Minjee’s younger brother? He pretended to be mildly affronted at the query before making cheerful reference to how at least some of the tour starts he had enjoyed would have been down to him. His winning of the 2016 US Junior would not have escaped notice, with the same applying to his success in making some early cuts.
He then went a little further towards balancing the ledger when he said he always had the beating of Minjee when they were hitting from the same men’s tees in that he could knock his drives 80 yards past hers.
Just as Min Woo and Yusaku have been endlessly supportive of their sisters, so the reverse has applied. The two-way bonding has meant the world to both of the men, with Yusaku saying that one of the proudest moments in his golfing life had come when Ai asked him to caddie for her in her first outing as a professional.
“It was a win for her and a win for me. A truly wonderful week.”
Yusaku Miyazato hits a tee shot during the first round of last year’s PGA Championship. Photo: Kyle Terada, USA Today Sports
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