MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia hopes to lure Masters winner Hideki Matsuyama to its national PGA Championship in Queensland in December as part of plans to revive its golfing calendar after the 2020/21 season was impacted by COVID-19.
Japan’s Matsuyama became the first player from an Asian nation to win the Masters on Sunday after holding on for a one-stroke win at Augusta National.
Securing Matsuyama would be a major coup for Australia’s low-profile golf tour, four years after 2017 Masters winner Sergio Garcia was enticed to the Australian PGA Championship.
“We have a player strategy and Hideki will be part of that player strategy in working with our partners to see what his schedule will be like in Dec. 2-5 this year,” PGA of Australia Chief Executive Gavin Kirkman told Reuters.
“In ’17 we secured Sergio the year that he won the Masters. That was something we were very excited about.
“The following that (Matsuyama) would have in Australia through our Aussie fans but also the Japanese that live out here in Australia would be quite exciting.”
Organisers confirmed on Monday the Australian PGA Championship will be held in front of crowds at Brisbane’s Royal Queensland Golf Club in a welcome return to normalcy after the 2020 event was abandoned amid the pandemic.
Australia has virtually eliminated COVID-19, allowing professional sport to resume in front of large crowds.
But the country’s strict border controls remain a major impediment to international sport, with visiting athletes required to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine.
Australia’s slow vaccine rollout has also raised concerns that the country’s borders will remain closed for longer than anticipated.
That could complicate Australia’s hopes of coaxing international golfers like Matsuyama and top locals like Adam Scott and Jason Day, who compete mainly in the United States, to return home.
“I think we’re all going to learn a little bit in the next three months what the vaccine protocols will be like and whether that restricts time-frames with quarantine or how professional athletes quarantine,” said Kirkman.
“Our leading Australian players want to come back to Australia and play this summer because they didn’t last summer.”
Kirkman said the local tour hoped to secure approval from authorities to allow players to train while undertaking quarantine if they were required to isolate later in the year.
He said they were also working with Golf Australia, which organises the Australian Open, to deliver a schedule that would encourage more players to head Down Under at the end of the year.
“It’s very important that we work and collaborate this year to make it a worthwhile trip for players to come down and play two events — not just isolate for one event,” he said.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)