Matsuyama nervous at joining Masters champions club

Japanese golfer says he’s doing his ‘very best’ to defend his title despite injury issues


AFP April 02, 2022

AUGUSTA:

Defending Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama says he will start feeling nervous long before he tees off at Augusta National next week, notably at Tuesday's Masters Champions Dinner.

The first Japanese man to win a major and the first Asian-born golfer to win the green jacket feels the expectations after his history-making triumph last April.

"Looking forward to returning to Augusta National," Matsuyama said. "I really hope I play well. There's some expectations from myself, whether it's pressure or not.

"The same with the Champions Dinner. I don't speak English very well and so it's kind of a two-sided coin. I'm looking forward to it, of course, to be with all those great past Masters champions, but at the same time, too, very nervous about the speech I will be giving."

Matsuyama hasn't revealed his contribution to the menu for the legends' gathering.

His preparations for his title defense have been disrupted by back issues that forced him to withdraw from the Players Championship followed by a sore neck that saw him pull out of the Texas Open.

"I've been receiving a lot of treatment, getting prepared," he said after the Players. "I'm going to do my very best to be as prepared as I can to defend my title.

"I haven't been able to practice as much as I'd like, but what I have been doing, I feel like I'm on the right track. Hopefully I can find that same form I started the year out with."

World number 12 Matsuyama won last October's Zozo Championship and January's Sony Open in Hawaii.

Matsuyama downplayed his role as a pioneer despite his historic feat, paying tribute to the generations of Japanese players who came before him.

"Being the first Japanese to win a major, and especially the Masters, has made me really happy," Matsuyama said.

"To be the first to do it was a source of great pride, I guess, but I'm really not the pioneer. There have been so many others that have come before me that have laid the foundation for me to achieve this goal.

"It's not just me, but it's all of those that have gone before me that have tried and struggled and put the work in and were great examples to me."

Matsuyama has enjoyed the fame that his Masters victory has brought, but doesn't feel that he has changed much as a result.

"It has been a fantastic year," he said. "It has been a great blessing to become the Masters champion and to have so many people send me their best wishes and encouragement.

"I know I'm a happier person. I've also noticed people have received me differently. It has been a wonderful experience."

Matsuyama noted the gesture of his caddie, Shota Hayafuji, to bow to the Augusta National course after replacing the flagstick once the victory was secured.

"I thought it was something very special," Matsuyama said. "I'm glad that Shota did it. It's a sign of respect, not only to the Masters tournament but Augusta National."

Matsuyama was in tears as he walked to the clubhouse at seeing his support team crying.

"Those tears, it wasn't because I won," Matsuayama said. "Walking up after the 18th green, I saw all my team, and they were all crying, and I think that's probably what started me crying, too.

"The feeling of 'we finally did it' – that was the reason why those tears were falling down all of our cheeks."

Matsuyama's victory celebration in Japan was delayed because he had to undergo a Covid-19 quarantine after flying home.

"It was difficult because of the quarantine," he said. "I arrived in Japan and immediately for two weeks was under quarantine. But when that finished, I still had a week and was able to celebrate with friends and family.

"Even though it was a little belated, it was still a good celebration."

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