Matsuyama gets plenty of attention

Japanese media at Kapalua put focus on world’s sixth-ranked player

Hideki Matsuyama, shown before his round Friday, has three PGA Tour wins and eight others worldwide and leads the FedEx Cup standings.   The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Hideki Matsuyama, shown before his round Friday, has three PGA Tour wins and eight others worldwide and leads the FedEx Cup standings. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

KAPALUA — Hideki Matsuyama has, by far, the largest personal media contingent at the SBS Tournament of Champions.

After finishing his 5-under-par round of 68 on Friday at the Kapalua Plantation Course to stand at 9-under 137 for the tournament, the 24-year-old from Ehime, Japan, did a series of individual sessions with television and print reporters from his home country.

“I’m grateful that I’m playing well enough that they’re here watching me and covering me,” Matsuyama, ranked sixth in the world and the leader in the FedEx Cup standings, said through interpreter Bob Turner. “We’re all part of the family — they have a job to do and I do, too.”

Asked about whether there was pressure created by having his every move on the course followed, Matsuyama said, “When I first started, maybe, but now I’m used to it.”

The tournament has 26 credentialed media members from Japan, representing 13 organizations — roughly twice as many as the last few years, according to Kapalua officials.

“I don’t know how the hell he does it. I couldn’t do it,” said Pat Perez, Matsuyama’s playing partner Friday.

Eiko Oizuki, a writer for Golf Today Japan, has been to several events at Kapalua, but she said having Matsuyama in the field makes this year different. Oizumi compared Matsuyama’s popularity in Japan to that of tennis player Kei Nishikori.

“I think it’s even right now,” Oizumi said. “Very similar.”

Oizumi said, “Baseball is No. 1, sumo is No. 2 and golf is No. 3 or 4 or 5, I think. Now Matsuyama is a superstar in the golf world. If he wins a tournament we can see him on TV, so he is getting better. He is very popular.”

Matsuyama said he feels a connection to the fans on Maui as well.

“The melting pot and the Japanese fans, it’s just a joy to play here,” he said.

Matsuyama was the low amateur at the Masters in 2011, when he finished tied for 27th. In his last appearance at Augusta, in 2015, he was fifth.

“We’ve never seen a major champion from Japan so far, so we are very excited to see him at the Masters in April,” Oizumi said. “Everybody loves Masters week and we are hoping for a Japanese major champion at Masters week.”

Matsuyama has three PGA Tour wins and eight other victories worldwide. His most recent win was in October’s HSBC Champions, a World Golf Championships event in China.

He tied for third at Kapalua in 2015, and enters today three shots behind co-leaders Ryan Moore and Justin Thomas.

“I’m in a good position,” Matsuyama said. “If I play well on the weekend hopefully good things will happen.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com

COMMENTS