By Jahmal Corner
(Reuters) – During a normal week on the PGA Tour, Hideki Matsuyama might find himself shadowed by five-to-10 Japanese media outlets tracking his every swing like unofficial scorekeepers.
But the U.S. Masters is no more ordinary a week than world number four Matsuyama is a player, so Augusta National will be swarmed with Japanese coverage documenting golf’s best hope of a first ever Asian-born winner at Augusta.
The expectations are a lot to shoulder, even for the sturdy ones of 25-year-old Matsuyama who has reluctantly learned to live with the attention.
“Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to report back to (the media) every day,” Matsuyama told Reuters through a translator last month at the Arnold Palmer Invitational where he was flanked by reporters after an uneventful second round.
“But we’re all family. I’m grateful they’re here. They are doing their job and I’m doing mine.”
Matsuyama is steadily improving at his craft, but golfing form, like his anonymity on the course, can be elusive.
After earning two wins along with an unofficial victory at Tiger Woods’ Hero World Challenge to begin the 2016-17 campaign, Matsuyama has since fought his game and hardly factored over the last month and a half.
“My preparation (for the Masters) is going slowly,” Matsuyama said. “I’m not quite where I want to be yet but I’m working toward it.”
With four PGA Tour wins and eight on the Japan Golf Tour, Matsuyama has long seemed destined to realize a major victory.
He won the 2010 Asian amateur championship to earn his place at Augusta National in 2011 where he finished in a tie for 27th in his Masters debut.
Matsuyama has since developed a strong rapport with the Masters, finishing fifth in 2015 and tying for seventh last year. It is his exceptional ball-striking ability that translates well at Augusta, and any venue for that matter.
And when Matsuyama is at his best he can dissect a golf course with machine-like precision while flashing his signature move – a backswing featuring a pronounced pause before transitioning forward with effortless strength.
“He’s going to be one of the top guys to beat for a very long time,” Woods said after watching Matsuyama dominate his tournament in December.
“Look at his swing, look at his game and look at the body that he has. It’s built for a workload and it’s built to handle the test of time.”
Matsuyama’s most stern test, though, has always come on the putting green which is the only place he can appear powerless.
Augusta National’s undulating greens are the course’s greatest defense, and one Matsuyama knows he must solve if he wishes to challenge for a Green Jacket.
“Augusta National is so demanding on and around the greens,” Matsuyama said. “That’s where I’m going to put a lot of work in.”
(Editing by Frank Pingue)