There will be no spectators at the Kasumigaseki Country Club next week, but golf-mad Japan will hang off Hideki Matsuyama’s every drive, chip and putt as he attempts to add Tokyo Olympic gold to his Masters Green Jacket.
Asia’s first US Masters champion is revered like a god in Japan and will have to cope with the extra pressure of carrying his nation’s golden hopes when he tees off on Thursday.
But he will relish teeing up on a Kasumigaseki Country Club course where he has enjoyed enormous success in the past, winning the first of his two Asia-Pacific Amateur Championships and a Japan Junior Championship.
Shigeki Maruyama, a three-time winner on the US PGA Tour and the Japan golf team’s coach for the Olympics, believes the growth in the game sparked by Matsuyama winning at Augusta National would explode in Japan should he deliver a gold medal.
“The economic effect would be huge. We shouldn’t put too much burden on his shoulders, but Hideki obviously grew to that level,” said Matsuyama.
“Everybody is proud of his accomplishment. Everybody in Japan will continue to have high expectations, although that’s a big load for him.
“He gave us a big dream. That’s what I think he did. Japan’s experiencing a golf boom right now.
“Because of that, the number of junior golfers who want to become the next Hideki will increase for sure.”
Matsuyama was asked recently what his aims were at Tokyo 2020. “Go there and win a gold medal,” he replied.
“That’s my goal and I’ll do my best to accomplish it. I still have an active role to play for probably another 10 to 15 years and I want to do my best to be an example and role model to all the kids and young golfers out there.”
‘It’s a happy thing’
Matsuyama said he had managed to handle all the extra attention and commitments that have come since he captured the Green Jacket at Augusta National in April.
“There are a lot more demands than before, but actually it’s a happy thing,” Matsuyama said.
“Hopefully, I can keep playing well and the demands will become even greater,” he said. “I’ve proved that a Japanese can wear the Green Jacket.”
Matsuyama first burst into prominence as an amateur a decade ago.
His maiden victory in the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at the Olympic venue of Kasumigaseki Country Club in 2010 secured Matsuyama a first trip to Augusta National, where he won the Silver Cup for finishing as low amateur and placed in a tie for 27th overall behind winner Charl Schwartzel.
Matsuyama won a gold medal at the World University Games as he led Japan’s team to victory.
He then secured a second Asia-Pacific crown and placed 54th at the 2012 Masters, becoming the first amateur to make consecutive Masters cuts since Manny Zerman in 1991-92 and rising to amateur world No 1.
After turning professional, Matsuyama shared 10th at the 2013 US Open and cracked the top 50 in the world rankings as a result.
In 2014, he won the Jack Nicklaus-hosted Memorial Tournament, the first US PGA win by a Japanese golfer in six years.
In 2016 he became the first Japanese to win a World Golf Championships (WGC) individual event when he dominated a field containing 40 of the world’s top 50 at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai to triumph by a record seven-stroke margin.
A year later, he finished runner-up at the US Open to Brooks Koepka and jumped to a career-high second in the world golf rankings.
Also in 2017, Matsuyama won at Phoenix and gained a second WGC title in Akron, but that marked his last victory before an 87-start drought that ended with his Green Jacket – a first win in four years.
A second at the Tokyo Olympics would be pure gold.
© Agence France-Presse