This week marks two-time Evian Masters champion Ai Miyazato’s final competitive appearance before her retirement.
In May, the Japanese star announced her intention to make the Evian Championship her final tournament and at a press conference on Tuesday, she said: “First of all, I’m very happy to be here. This is definitely one of my favorite tournaments all year-round, and specifically this week it’s going to be my last event.”
Over her 12-year career, the 32-year-old from Okinawa has amassed nine victories, 62 top-10 finishes and more than $8 million in career earnings. She spent 11 weeks in the No. 1 spot on the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings in 2010, and won the LET’s Order of Merit in 2011. She became the most beloved Japanese golfer since Ayako Okamoto. “I’ve been playing good since last year. I feel good with my game, and like I said, I’m ready for this week, too,” she said, adding that she has not planned her retirement activities.
“It’s still up in the air. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m actually not making a decision on purpose because the first — like I said, I want to focus on every tournament, and I want to play well every tournament — well, it’s going to be the last tournament this week, but even this week, I still want to play well. Until the last moment, I still want to focus on my game and I want to enjoy every single moment. Because of that, I haven’t made any decision, but now I have time to think about it.”
Miyazato added that she is thinking of following the example of fellow former world number one, Lorena Ochoa, who runs her own tournament and foundation in Mexico, alongside raising her family. “I want to hear something from Lorena maybe, because she’s one of my friends, and we still keep in touch. What she’s doing right now is still inspiring. She’s still done so many things for the LPGA and for her country, too. I can’t be like her because Japan is a little different, but I want to do something like similar stuff.”
So Yeon Ryu and Lexi Thompson, the world numbers one and two respectively, both said that they were sad to see Miyazato leave the tour.
Ryu said: “When I first time heard she was going to retire was when I played the Volvik Championship in Michigan. That was after my first round, and when I heard it, I just nearly cried. I just really had to hold that up. When I was young, Ai was one of my idols, and I still remember I met Ai my first time in my life in 2009 when I played the Japan against Korea tournament in Okinawa. I still remember the exact situation. And also I played with Ai in 2011 U.S. Women’s Open practice round and this tournament practice round, as well. Then Ai won the U.S. Women’s Open, then she won this tournament in 2011. Because of that, she always feels like even more special to me. “Also, as everybody knows, she was a great ambassador for this game, and she will be forever. She’s not even just great golfer, she’s a really great person. She always makes other players really happy, and she knows real sportsmanship. She’s the one always rooting for every player, and she just wants to play a little better than them. Yeah, in my mind she’s going to be always my idol star. Even though I cannot see her anymore on the Tour, she’s still going to be in my heart and she’s going to be my really good friend forever.”
Thompson, who won the Indy Women in Tech Championship on Saturday, said of Miyazato: “She’s the nicest person in the world. The Tour is definitely going to miss her. I’ve played a lot of golf with her, and she’s not only a great player, obviously, what she’s done for the game, but just her whole attitude and demeanor, she’s so nice so every single person, always has a smile on her face. You never know when she plays bad or good. I think she did wonders for the Tour, and everybody is going to miss her.”
President of Danone and the Evian Championship, Franck Riboud commented: “It is important for all of us to continually strengthen the tournament’s values and what gives it such a unique culture, with first and foremost the almost family-like ties we have forged with those who write the history of our Major. This is why we are deeply touched that Ai Miyazato, who embodies the spirit of our tournament so well and who has helped it to achieve star status in Japan, has chosen to retire from the game this year after her final Evian. We thank her and all those who each year make the tournament what it is and enable us to be part of these exciting moments. They are more precious than ever.”
Miyazato will start her final tournament at 8.07am on Thursday, playing with Yani Tseng and Paula Creamer.