Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama is delighted to be back at Augusta National Golf Club after a one-year absence, but his excitement is fueled by a greater motivation.
“It’s trying to win the Tournament,” Matsuyama said Tuesday through an interpreter.
Matsuyama, twice a competitor in the Masters as an amateur, will play for the first time as a professional this week.
“My two times here at Augusta National, I was lucky enough to win Low Amateur one of those years,” said Matsuyama, 22. “It’s different this time. Coming as a professional, it’s a different feeling, a different type of nervousness.
“As far as a target, I guess that’s what I’m trying to do now – overcome that nervousness being a professional and doing my best.”
In 2010, Matsuyama won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, and the victory earned him an invitation to the 2011 Masters. As the first Japanese amateur to play at Augusta National, Matsuyama, 19 at the time, tied for 27th and won the Silver Cup as Low Amateur. A week later, he finished third in the Japan Open on the Japan Golf Tour.
That first Masters was a bittersweet occasion for Matsuyama, who is from the Sendai region of Japan. On March 11, 2011, a massive earthquake, magnitude 9.0, hit the region. It was the fifth strongest earthquake ever recorded. More than 15,000 were killed and the area was devastated, with more than 127,000 buildings totally collapsed.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to play in my first Masters,” Matsuyama said. “But because of the encouragement that I received from those close to me in Sendai and the other people in Sendai, I felt that I should go. And being Low Amateur was a direct effect of the people of Japan in the Sendai area rooting for me and encouraging me. I felt their spirits throughout the event.”
He returned to the Masters the following year by successfully defending his title in the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship. His performance was commendable again – he tied for 54th – and was runner-up to Patrick Cantlay for Low Amateur honors by two shots. In August 2012, Matsuyama reached No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. Eight months later, he turned professional and won his second event, the Tsuruya Open.
Matsuyama tied for 10th last year in the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club. It put him in the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking and earned him his first trip to the Masters as a professional. He is playing full-time on the PGA Tour this year and is currently ranked No. 26 in the OWGR.
Matsuyama is another of the outstanding young players from around the world who have performed so admirably on the global tours. He is a far more polished golfer than he was in 2011.
“Probably the thing that improved the most is – it is hard to explain – but my heart,” he said. “Being able to hang in there and learn patience.”
And Matsuyama includes himself in the group of standout twentysomethings.
“Not only just the young people, but everybody in the field has a chance to win it,” he said. “I feel like I’m one of those, too, that has a chance. All I can do now is just prepare the best I can the next couple of days and see how it goes.”
Matsuyama will rely on his strong showings in the Masters to support his case. Augusta National has been a good fit for his game.
“I’m not really sure (why),” he said. “The fairways here are wide, but it’s also a shotmaker’s course, and I feel like I have confidence in my shot-making. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I play well here, and I’m trying to get back there.”