AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Patience is starting to pay off for Hideki Matsuyama, the lone Japanese entrant in this week’s Masters.
While Matsuyama has largely been overshadowed by compatriot Ryo Ishikawa, he is now emerging as Asia’s best shot at winning an elusive green jacket.
The 22-year-old has already played at Augusta National twice before having earned invitations after winning the Asian Amateur Championship in 2010 and 2011.
In 2011, he won the Silver Cup as the best amateur at the Masters, then returned in 2012, but failed to qualify in 2013. This year will be his first appearance as a professional.
“I’m thrilled to be back to the Masters Tournament after a one-year absence. Especially to come back as a professional, it means a lot to me,” he told a news conference on Tuesday.
“My two times here at Augusta National, I was lucky enough to win low amateur one of those years. But it’s different this year.
“Coming back as a professional, it’s a different feeling, a different type of nervousness.”
Unlike Ishikawa, who turned professional at 16, Matsuyama spurned the opportunity to cash in as a teenager, waiting until he graduated from university.
He reached the top of the world amateur rankings and now the
wait is starting to pay off. In his first eight months as a pro, Matsuyama won four titles on the Japanese PGA Tour and tied for 10th at the U.S. Open and equal sixth at the British Open.
He was rewarded with a place on the International team for the Presidents Cup and paired with Masters champion Adam Scott after the Australian asked to play with him.
Scott, who is 11 years older than Matsuyama, was impressed by what he saw from his young team mate, describing him as “all business.”
Now playing on the PGA Tour, Matsuyama tied for third at the Frys.com Open in October then tied for fourth at the Phoenix Open in February to reach 25th in the world rankings.
“Probably the biggest help with playing on the PGA Tour is being able to play with other professionals that are ranked very high in the world,” said Matsuyama.
“Being able to play with them, see how they play and see the level that I need to improve to be able to keep up with them.
“That’s probably the biggest help that being a professional on the PGA Tour leading up to the Masters has been for me.”
Matsuyama has also been learning how to better deal with his emotions. Earlier this year, he came under criticism from Englishman Ian Poulter after he angrily slammed his putter into a green, damaging the surface.
He later apologized for his petulant behavior and learnt a valuable lesson that he hopes will put him in good stead when the year’s first major starts on Thursday.
“As far as my golf game, probably the thing that has improved the most is, it’s hard to explain but my heart, being able to hang in there and learn patience,” he said.
“It’s a thrill to be able to be back here at the Masters Tournament again.
“And 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.”
Editing by Frank Pingue