Jul
27
2009
By Stephanie Wei under General

Photo of the Day: Franck Riboud, President and CEO of the Danone group (left) and Jaques Bungert, Tournement Director (right) adorn 2009 Evian Masters Champion Ai Miyazato with kisses.

Congratulations, Ai-chan! She shot rounds of 69-66-70-69 for a total of 14-under-par. After 72 holes, she was tied with Sophie Gustafson. In the first sudden death playoff hole, she knocked it to about 3 feet from the sand and made birdie to win.

With my mom in town this past week, I missed the coverage. I did catch the recap on the Golf Channel though. And I did see Ai’s tears of joy after she sank the final putt. Those types of moments are priceless – I get emotional just from watching! I can only imagine what it feels like to win your first LPGA tournament – one as prestigious as the Evian Masters, no less.

I also caught up with the action via The Constructivist’s excellent live-blogging and you should all check out his congratulatory tribute to Ai. The Hound Dog’s recap and analysis is fantastic as well.

No doubt this is an epic win for the Japanese. I bet they haven’t stopped celebrating since Sunday. She is Japan’s darling. I hear there are ads of her everywhere. My Japanese-American friend Megumi told me:

“She’s huge. She’s smiley and generally liked. Everyone knows her. When I was living there (and when she was winning all the time), she always headlined the sports reports ahead of baseball and men’s golf. The hype around her died down a bit because it took her four years to win. She’s clearly very good and in the handful of ‘allstar’ caliber players. She’s no ‘headliner’/’powerhouse’ like Ochoa, for example, in the US (yet). Hope this win wasn’t a ‘fluke’ and I hope she repeats with a few good wins in the short term – legitimize herself and whatnot.”

We also both noted how much we liked her pink outfit. According to Megumi, she usually wears black and red.

The win “validates” her career, so to speak. After dominating the JLPGA for years, she was under a ton of pressure to win on the LPGA. Honestly, I think it’s unfair when “superstars” are critiqued when they don’t win immediately on Tour. It’s not that easy. There are tons of good players out there who remain winless for several years after being herculean amateurs or kicking butt on foreign tours. Give them a little break and it’ll happen – like it did for Ai.

Ai is a likable and “press-friendly” player. (She even gave her post-round interview in English. OMG!) I expect we’ll be seeing more great things from her. Well played, lady!

[Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images Europe]