Matsuyama chasing three-peat in Thailand
BY Bruce Young | 20 Oct 2012
When 20 year old Hideki Matsuyama tees it up at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at the Amata Spring Country Club near Bangkok on November 1st he will be attempting to claim his third consecutive victory in the increasingly prestigious event for amateurs from around Asia and the Pacific Rim.
As a result of winning the event in his homeland in 2010 and in Singapore in 2011, Matsuyama earned the right to play the Masters at Augusta National in 2011 and 2012 and by making the cut on both occasions he added to his own growing profile and to that of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship itself.
Matsuyama is rapidly gaining a legion of fans in Japan along the lines of the man who is five months his senior, Ryo Ishikawa.
Ishikawa burst on to the Japan scene in May of 2007 when, as a 15 year old, he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup on the Japan Tour. In 2008 he turned professional and after winning four times that year he was the youngest player ever to hold a position inside the top 100 in world golf, in fact at that point he had moved to number 60 in the official world ranking.
Ishikawa has gone on to become a huge figure in not just Japanese golf but Japanese sport, attracting huge galleries to those events in which he plays and a large media following wherever in the world he competes
The Japan Golf Tour has had its own home grown celebrities ever since the days of Isao Aoki, Jumbo Ozaki, Tommy Nakajima and Shingo Katayama but it was the arrival of Ishikawa who took the Japanese hysteria to a new level.
Since then the Japanese media have been searching for just who might be the next best thing and it appears in Matsuyama they may well have found it.
Matsuyama, currently the 9th ranked amateur in world golf, was born on the smallest of the four main islands in Japan, Shikoku. The name Matsuyama just happens to be the name of the capital city of one of the Prefectures of that region.
Matsuyama (the golfer) attends the University of Tohoku Fukishi in Sendai to the north of Tokyo from where he plans his assaults on the world of amateur golf.
The golfing world, already aware of his significant talent, stood up and took notice of Matsuyama when he led the amateurs and became the only one to make the cut in his debut at Augusta National in 2010. In considering who he defeated that year gives an indication of the merit in his performance but to then make the cut again in 2011 gave further evidence of a young man who appears destined for the elite of the game.
In October of 2010 he finished 3rd in his own national championship (the Japan Open), only the brilliant Korean Kyung Tae Kim and one of Japan’s best modern day players Hiroyuki Fujita able to finish ahead of the then 18 year old.
Matsuyama has continued to play with success in amateur events worldwide including when winning the Gold Medal at the World University Games in China in August of last year. Three months later would come one of the great moments in his fledgling career when he defeated a field which included the Masters Champion that year, Charl Schwartzel, the leading money winner on the Japan Golf Tour in 2011, Sang Moon Bae and every other leading player in Japan in one of the higher profile events of the JGT schedule. That was at the Mitsui Sumitomo Visa Taiheiyo Masters in Shizuoka.
So how do these performances rate or compare in the mind of Matsuyama? “It has to be playing the Masters,” he said in a recent teleconference when asked how he would rate winning the Visa Taiheiyo tournament against playing the Masters. “Nothing can compare!”
While Matsuyama could comfortably turn professional and make a lot of money both on and off the golf course with the contracts that are no doubt already lined up he appears to be in no rush. “I will be finishing University first and then turning professional in a year or so,” he said when asked that very question.
Despite his considerable success there have been disappointments for Matsuyama in 2012. He finished an inglorious 26th in the Individual contest at the recent World Amateur Team Championship in Turkey and surprisingly missed the match play phase of the US Amateur Championship. The failure at Cherry Hills allowed him to reassess just where he was at with his game. “I was fortunate to have that experience in some ways as I now realise I really need to work harder for that tournament.”
Matsuyama, however, served notice that he was ready for a serious tilt at defending his APAC title when two weeks ago he finished with a brilliant round of 70 on the outrageously demanding layout at the Naha Golf Club to place 7th at the Japan Open.
This year the winner of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship will again get the opportunity to tee it up in early April at the Masters and while a lot of the focus will be on Matsuyama in his attempt to win for the third successive year there are several others who will provide him with a tough battle if he is to achieve what would be yet another significant milestone.
Cheng-Tsung Pan from Chinese Taipei finished runner-up in the stroke-play phase of the US Amateur Championship and made it to the quarter finals and has had a fine amateur career in the US.
Pan attended the Brandenton Academy in the USA and played College Golf at the University of Washington. At number 13 in the current World Amateur Rankings he is clearly one of the men who Matsuyama has to beat if he is to be heading for Augusta National once again in April.
Others who are considered genuine chances of playing well are Australia’s Cameron Smith who finished 17th in the recent Asia Pacific Panasonic Open on the Japan Golf Tour and who finished 13th in the Individual contest at the Eisenhower Trophy. Smith finished 4th at this past week’s Keperra Bowl in Brisbane and did well in this event last year in Singapore when 4th behind Matsuyama.
Exciting Perth youngster Oliver Goss made it to the quarter finals at the US Amateur Championship and won the West Australian Amateur Championship earlier this year and was a member of the successful Australian Toyota Junior World Cup winning side. The 18 year old will take up a scholarship at the University of Tennessee early in 2013 and will play selected events between now and then. He has also made the cut at this week’s Perth International.
Another to have finished 13th at the Eisenhower trophy is Korean Lee Soo-min. Lee finished runner-up in this event last year after leading the first round and has continued to play well this season.
Khalin Joshi represented Asia Pacific at the Sir Michael Bonallack Trophy earlier this year and did well when defeating Robin Kind in the Singles and earning a point in the Fourball.
Another Indian to have done well at the Sir Michael Bonallack Trophy is Chikkarangappa Seenappa. The Bangalore golfer halved his singles encounter against British Amateur Champion Alan Dunbar.
Other Australians who will line-up are Nathan Holman, Brett Drewitt, Ricky Kato and James McMillan while for New Zealand their leading ranked player Vaughn McCall will head their contingent which also includes Daniel Pearce, Compton Pikari, Blair Riordan, Peter Lee and James Beale.
McCall finished 13th at the Eisenhower trophy event and this year won both the New Zealand Amateur and New Zealand stroke-play titles.
At stake for all is a title growing in significance in world golf but the real carrot for many is the opportunity to live a childhood dream and play the Masters.
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