Stefan Ishizaki loving his time in California

CARSON, Calif. – It wasn’t as if the LA Galaxy’s Stefan Ishizaki needed a break from the MLS regular season.

The Galaxy, after all, have played a league-low five matches entering Saturday’s game at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo., against the Colorado Rapids.

But a trip to the Monterey Peninsula to play two of the most famous golf courses in the world during last weekend’s bye was something he had to make.

So he and a friend who flew in from his home country of Sweden headed north to play Pebble Beach Golf Links and Spyglass Hill Golf Course, and Ishizaki returned with an understandable grin on his face.

“I was very humbled by the experience,” he said after training this week. “Sometimes you play a course and shoot a low score and you think you’re a good player. Those two courses brought me back to earth.”

Ishizaki, a native of Stockholm, Sweden who signed with the Galaxy as a free agent during the offseason, has been growing more and more acclimated to Southern California and the state in general.

“I’ve been pretty comfortable from the get-go,” he said. “Everyone’s so nice and helpful. I feel like that’s the case in all of California.

“The transition from Europe has been very easy.”

And what better way to add to his impressions of the West Coast than to venture to one of the world’s golf meccas?

Ishizaki booked tee times a couple of months in advance and stayed at The Links at Spanish Bay, another of the more renowned courses on the peninsula. He didn’t play that course – “But I got to watch golfers play the first hole,” he said with a grin – but he was more than happy to play Spyglass last Saturday and Pebble Beach on Sunday.

At Spyglass, he said, he came face to face with a member of the area’s wildlife.

He was preparing to tee off on his final hole when he looked up and notice a deer no more than 20 yards ahead of him right in his line. And it wouldn’t move.

“I went up towards him to try and shoo him away, and he didn’t go for that,” Ishizaki said with a grin. “I had to go up with my driver and tap him on his back to get him to move.”

Ishizaki, a solid player with a 6.9 handicap/index, finished with an 85, a highly respectable score on a course generally acknowledged to be one of the toughest in the U.S.

Then it was on to Pebble Beach, home to Jack Nicklaus’ favorite shot in golf, the approach on the par-4 eighth – Ishizaki wound up with a disappointing bogey after what he thought was a perfect second shot rolled off the back of the green – and one of the most famous holes in the world, the par-five 18th.

There was just one problem. Ishizaki and his friend couldn’t play it because it was too dark.

“But at least I got to have brunch by it and look out and see all the players play it,” he said.

Ishizaki said his goal is to play some of the best courses in the world – the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland, Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades and Chicago’s Cog Hill are high among his future destinations – but at least he can scratch Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill off his list of must-plays.

“It was a dream come true,” he said with a smile. “I want to go back … next weekend, actually.”