New Ai sees 20/20

SINGAPORE – Pretty sure I went blind for a half a second when Ai Miyazato laughed during her Sunday press conference, so many cameras flashed.

Miyazato, however, didn’t flinch. She’s used to a media frenzy, though it will surely rise to a new level next week when she returns home to Okinawa for the season-opening event on the JLPGA.

I feel like I can’t say enough good things about Miyazato the person. She came to the LPGA in 2006 under immense pressure, and for years, didn’t live up to it. That didn’t stop her from being one of the tour’s most genuine members.

As a player, Miyazato clearly has come into her own. After a terrible spell with her driver (think yips), she has conquered her mental demons and plays with a newfound freedom.

“I found my style of golf last year,” she said after winning the HSBC Women’s Champions Sunday for her second consecutive win this season.

No one has had a better seat for Miyazato’s transformation than her longtime caddie, Mick Seaborn. Nowadays Miyazato relies less on Seaborn for course management, choosing instead to trust her instincts.

“Until she won Evian (Masters), it was like she was trying to impress people with Ai Miyazato rather than just being Ai Miyazato,” Seaborn said.

Both agree the massive shift in her game has been more mental than physical. Seaborn looks at the pressure that compounded each year she didn’t win as what ultimately “broke her.”

“I think what we’re seeing now is the real Ai Miyazato,” he said.

Ryo Ishikawa supplanted Miyazato as Japan’s most talked-about golfer last year, but she’s prepared to knock him off the pedestal.

The new Miyazato looks as though she can handle whatever pressure may come her way. And rest assured, she’ll do it graciously.

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