When the American news media asked her about her decision this summer at the United States Women’s Open, Miyazato, 32, just smiled and answered in her gentle way.
“It feels right and I’m just following my heart,” she said. “If you don’t have really strong motivation, you can’t compete on this tour. I’m glad I made the decision to retire.”
Miyazato, who is five feet one inch tall, grew up in a small village in Okinawa. In her 14 years as a pro, she has nine L.P.G.A. wins and 59 top-10 finishes, with career earnings of more than $8.2 million.
She also has 15 victories in Japan, was No. 1 in the women’s world rankings for 11 weeks in 2010, and led the Ladies European Tour’s Order of Merit — earnings — in 2011.
But while she was the best Japanese woman to play golf since Ayako Okamoto — a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame who won 17 L.P.G.A. tournaments in the 1980s and early ’90s — Miyazato knew she had to test herself against the rest of the world. She arrived in the United States in late 2005 for the L.P.G.A.’s final qualifying tournament.
Miyazato said she had followed Juli Inkster, Karrie Webb and Annika Sorenstam on TV and always wanted to compete with them.
“That really motivated me,” she said.
At that annual qualifying school, the L.P.G.A. had to add several modular offices to accommodate the working press corps for the Japanese news media who followed Miyazato to Florida.
Miyazato won the qualifying tournament by 12 strokes to earn full status on the 2006 L.P.G.A. Tour, which is still the record for the largest margin of victory at the event.
That was the beginning of the pressure that Miyazato dealt with for the next 11 years on the United States-based L.P.G.A. Tour, where tournaments are typically four rounds instead of the three-day events in Japan that allowed her to return home frequently.
“It was a big deal when Ai came over here, won Q-school and qualified for the L.P.G.A. Tour,” said Kim Higgins, a bilingual American who works as a videographer for Japanese television. “It had been a long time since a Japanese player of this caliber had come to the U.S. to play.”
When Miyazato returned to…