Matsuyama was always 'special', say S'pore pros

Hideki Matsuyama with his Asian Amateur Championship trophy, after defending his title at the Singapore Island Country Club in 2011.
Hideki Matsuyama with his Asian Amateur Championship trophy, after defending his title at the Singapore Island Country Club in 2011.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

It had rained and the round had been delayed. Singapore golfer Choo Tze Huang had returned to the Singapore Island Country Club clubhouse with an even-par 72 and was pleased with his score in the third round of the Asian Amateur Championship.

Now 34, he recalls of that day a decade ago: "I had one of the best rounds of the day, before Hideki Matsuyama came in with seven-under 65, and he went on to win the tournament.

"The conditions were tough, but he made it look easy. Even back then, he was a very good irons player and had a good overall game."

On Sunday, Matsuyama lived up to the promise he showed in Singapore, becoming the first Asian-born player to win the Masters as he edged out Will Zalatoris to win the year's first Major by one stroke.

And Choo was not entirely surprised.

"Winning the Asian Amateur Championship back to back said a lot about his abilities, and he just went on to become a world-class golfer since he turned pro in 2013."

While Choo did not get to see the Japanese player's prowess up close, SEA Games gold medallist Gregory Foo did, at the 2010 Asian Games, when he was paired with him in the final round of the men's individual event.

Matsuyama eventually finished tied for 14th, while Foo was 10 spots behind.

The 27-year-old Singaporean said: "Even then, you could tell he was a special player who had an outstanding ball-striking quality and a confident demeanour.

"He was not at his best, and there were times when he didn't hold his finish, which could be a sign of frustration, but when we walked to the green, his ball would be within 10 feet of the pin.

"That was the high expectation he had of himself, and when he missed, he didn't miss by much. This is why I'm not surprised to see him do so well."

Both Singapore pros hailed Matsuyama's achievement and felt that it would spur a boom in Asian golf.

Foo, who woke up early to catch the final nine holes of the Masters, said: "I can only hope that I can come close to having the opportunity to accomplish something similar. His victory is inspirational not just for Japan, but for the whole of Asia."

Choo added: "Hideki's win shows that if you are determined and sure of what you want, and work hard, you can make it, be in on the Japan Tour, PGA Tour, or even in a Major."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2021, with the headline 'Matsuyama was always 'special', say S'pore pros'. Subscribe