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Does gold go with green? Reigning Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama sure hopes so.
With Naomi Osaka bounced from women’s tennis in the third round of the Olympics, Matsuyama will take center stage as the most prominent Japanese athlete in the Tokyo Games. During his pre-tournament press conference on Tuesday, Matsuyama noted that he’d been watching his fellow Japanese athletes compete in the Olympics via his cell phone and it’s been very inspiring.
“Some of them are winning the medals as well. Last night I watched one of them win the table tennis gold medal too, which was also inspiring as well,” he said. “So, I think I want to join them and do my best and convert the inspiration into how I play well on the golf course.”
Tee times: Olympic men’s golf competition
Matsuyama’s star power went next level in April when he became the first male Japanese golfer to win a major and sent his golf-mad country into a frenzy. Winning gold at home? That would be sporting immortality.
But it won’t be easy.
Matsuyama hasn’t been the same golfer since his victory at the Masters. His best result since is a tie for 23rd at the PGA Championship. Last month, he was forced to withdraw from the Rocket Mortgage Classic after the first round when he tested positive for COVID-19. He also missed the British Open and hasn’t completed an event in six weeks.
“When I was initially diagnosed with COVID 19, the number was very high,” Matsuyama said. “I tested positive for COVID for about 10 days in duration, so in that time I was staying home and did my best to recover from the symptoms. During that time I was unable to practice, but once I got back to Japan I started practicing. So in terms of preparation, it started a little bit with a delay but hopefully I’ll be able to be in the best form possible for the event this week.”
Matsuyama, World No. 20, didn’t sugarcoat the fact that his recent results haven’t been up to his high standards.
“Since my Masters win I haven’t had the best results so far this summer, so I’m a little bit nervous, but I’m really looking forward to it, I think it’s going to be really fun and I’m going to try to do my best to play well,” he said.
Working in Matsuyama’s favor is local course knowledge. He won the 2009 Japan Junior at Kasumigaseki Country Club’s East Course and the 2010 Asia-Pacific Amateur at the club’s West Course to earn his first Masters invitation.
“In a way Kasumigaseki has been a place and catalyst for me to progress and grow, so hopefully I could do the same this week and move on to the another level,” he said.
The pressure to succeed and win a medal at home is immense for Matsuyama, but he delivered with flying colors at Augusta National in April, so there’s no reason to believe this moment will prove to be to big for him
“This is the first time playing the Olympics, so I’m not sure how I’m going to feel,” he said, “but I’m going to do my best and try to get myself to the best position possible.”