By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Japanese teenager Ryo Ishikawa, one of the most exciting prospects in the game, has taken up special temporary membership on the PGA Tour for the rest of this year.
Ishikawa will consequently be able to accept unlimited sponsor's exemptions for the remainder of the season, the PGA Tour said in a statement on Wednesday.
The 19-year-old has competed in 10 events on the 2011 tour with earnings of $577,136 and, because his financial return exceeds that by the player who finished 150th in the 2010 money list, he became eligible for special temporary membership.
Ishikawa's most impressive performance came at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio earlier this month where he tied for fourth after threatening to become the PGA Tour's youngest winner in 100 years.
Asked after that tournament whether he was considering becoming a special temporary member on the PGA Tour, Ishikawa replied: "I don't know any of the details at this point.
"I know that there's a big event coming up for me ... and hopefully I'd like to play well there in order to be a part of the PGA Tour. I'd like to play 100 percent on the Tour."
As it happened, Ishikawa played poorly after the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, recording scores of 85 and 72 to miss the cut in last week's PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club.
However, he has already done enough in the global game to suggest he could become one of the sport's leading players in the years ahead.
The fashion-conscious Ishikawa tied for 20th at the Masters in April, the year's opening major, and has triumphed nine times on the Japanese Tour where he is a massive drawcard with a mind-boggling media following.
"It's hard to fathom. He's been around a little bit and he's only 19," former world number one Tiger Woods said of Ishikawa at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
"Give this kid another decade, this kid is going to be unreal. He makes a ton of putts, he usually drives it on a string, and he's learning how to flight his golf ball down better. He's going to do great things."
Already one of his country's biggest sporting celebrities, Ishikawa became the Japanese Tour's youngest order of merit winner in 2009 and yet he is nicknamed the 'Bashful Prince' because of his unassuming demeanor.
World number seven Scott, who played on the International team with Ishikawa at the 2009 Presidents Cup, has long been impressed by the teenager's golfing maturity and model behavior.
"He's got a very mature game but as he grows and gets stronger and smarter about how to play the game, he could be a world beater," the Australian said.
Asked whether he was surprised Ishikawa had not made a bigger impact on the PGA Tour before the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Scott replied: "No, I'm not, and I don't mean that in a degrading way to his game at all.
"It is the biggest stage in golf. The depth of the field is a lot deeper. I just think it's a great achievement that he can do it at 19 and be in this position.
"It's not surprising, but it would be surprising if he's not there more regularly from now on, though."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)