Matsuyama set for Asian Amateur Championship title defence

With just days to go until the 2011 Asian Amateur Championship, organised by the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC) and supported by the Masters Tournament and The R&A, last year’s winner looks back on the incredible year he has enjoyed since his life changing victory and reveals how preparations are going for the defence of his title.

To say it has been a year of highs and lows for Hideki Matsuyama since he burst onto the golfing scene by winning the 2010 Asian Amateur Championship would be an understatement. Matsuyama shot four sub-70 rounds to take the title by five shots and secure starts in the Masters and International Final Qualifying for The Open Championship. The very next week he finished in a tie for third at the Japan Open, setting up an exciting year of opportunity and raised expectations. However, filled with excitement and anticipation, he was busy preparing for the season of a lifetime when everything changed.

The March 11 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami cost thousands of lives and destroyed countless communities along the north-eastern Japanese coast and beyond. Matsuyama was in his first year at Tohoku Fukushi University in Sendai, a city among the worst affected by the disaster. Although away when the earthquake struck – he was training in Australia – he returned a short time later to be confronted with a scene of utter devastation. However, showing the inspirational dignity and perseverance displayed by his fellow countrymen, and with the blessing of these around him, he decided to play at Augusta.

Speaking in trademark understated style on the eve of this year’s Championship at Singapore Island Country Club, Matsuyama said: “I was so glad that I was able to go to the Masters, despite the fact that an earthquake struck Japan in March. Many people were supporting me and I had a great experience at the Masters.”

One can only imagine how it must have felt to sit next to winner Charl Schwartzel in the Butler Cabin after becoming the first Asian player to win the Silver Cup for leading amateur. He went into the tournament with the spotlight of Asian golf on him but a sensational 65 on a slow Saturday saw the rest of the golfing world turn its attention to the first year college student from Ehime.

The 19-year-old acquitted himself well in the glare of the world’s sporting media last April, something he was prepared for thanks to the experience he gained at last year’s Asian Amateur Championship.

“I realised how big the tournament was and that through it I’d get to go to the Masters,” he said. “I also got introduced to the media from that tournament and got to understand how much of the world is watching the Asian Amateur Championship.”

His run of success did not stop with his T27 placing at the Masters. With the rebuilding process underway in Sendai, he was able to get back to his golf and a consistent season sees him currently holding eigth spot in the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR). Matsuyama also won the gold medal at this summer’s World University Games at Mission Hills, China. He looks likely to add a few more amateur titles to his collections as he is in no rush to join the paid ranks.

He explained: “I will probably turn pro in 2013 after I have finished college. I have two more years at college so when that is done then I want to turn pro. There are so many things to learn at college before I decide to turn pro.”

The R&A Foundation scholar is also keen to retain the Asian Amateur title and with it another slot in International Final Qualifying for The Open Championship.

Speaking with the help of a translator, he said: “I have not played in The Open Championship. The Open is a place where my patience would be tested and I would love to try and do well at that tournament.”

Matsuyama, excited at the prospect of playing in Singapore for the first time, knows the ever improving standard of Asian amateur golf means that defending his title will not be easy. After leading Japan to team gold at the World University Games, he also knows many of his main rivals well.

“I know there are a lot of people looking to go to the Masters by winning this tournament and I know there are many other good Japanese players playing in this tournament as well,” he explained. I would just like to do my best and beat everybody that is looking to win the tournament.

“As the defending champion I am an ambassador. I am trying to prepare myself as well as I did last year, while keeping the experience of the Masters in my mind as well.”