At Wednesday morning’s U.S. Open presser, Adam Scott gushed about his Presidents Cup partner, Hideki Matsuyama of Japan. “He’s an impressive young player, very strong, and a great ball-striker,” Scott said. “He doesn’t have too many weaknesses...But to me, what stands out is his mental strength. I think that’s his biggest asset at the moment.”
Ian Poulter wasn’t so enamored with Matsuyama when he excoriated the 22-year-old on Twitter for his temper tantrum on Doral’s 13th green during the second round at the WGC-Cadillac Championship in March. Did Matsuyama deserve to be called an “idiot,” as Poults tweeted? It doesn’t really matter. Matsuyama apologized, but wasn’t bothered by it. Nothing bothers him too much, say our Japanese colleagues who follow Matsuyama. Can this young phenom who just won Memorial take the U.S. Open trophy? Here are five things you need to know about Matsuyama and his U.S. Open chances. He tees off at 8:13 a.m. Thursday.
1. After superb showings at the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion (T10) and the 2013 British Open (T6), why did he disappear? Matsuyama hurt his left wrist at the British. Making repeated contact with the very firm fairways and his efforts at flighting his ball lower caused the problem. After the PGA Championship, he mostly shut it down for the year, skipping many of Japan’s bigger autumn tournaments.
2. What is the health of the wrist these days? It still bothers him, but it’s better. He tried a number of remedies post- British Open, with little success. He had to skip the Sony Open in Hawaii in January, a tournament he likes a lot, but the good news is that he found a new trainer that week, a physical therapist. An injection, new exercise therapy to build muscles in the arm and wrist and a taping of the wrist have helped considerably. He’s still a little worried, but things are better, as evidenced by his Memorial win, a T4 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and a T10 at Colonial.
3. Is he dependent on a big-name swing coach? Hardly. He hasn’t employed a swing coach since he finished college and prior to that, his only teacher was his father.
4. Was he rattled by the 2-stroke penalty that may have cost him the British Open last year, or by the criticism leveled by Poulter and others over his denting the green at Doral? Not at all. One top broadcaster in Japan who covers him regularly says that Matsuyama doesn’t care at all what people think. He never seems to get nervous, and he doesn’t take things too seriously, even if he shows a little emotion now and then. That certainly underscores Adam Scott’s contention that Matsuyama’s mental strength might be his strongest asset. Contrast that with Matsuyama’s predecessor as the great young Japanese golf idol, Ryo Ishikawa, who is a much more sensitive guy. Ishikawa reacts much more to the media, to fans. He tries to be a nice guy and is especially sensitive to his sponsors. Ishikawa has 10 different commercial endorsements in Japan, including clothing, cold medicine and beer. Matsuyama has only three. He doesn’t want any more. He just wants to concentrate on his golf.
5. Did Matsuyama come out of nowhere with his high finishes in the majors in 2013? No. He’s been outstanding since he first burst onto the scene as an amateur in 2010. He starred at Tohoku Fukushi University in Sendai, Japan, one of the very best collegiate golf programs in the country. He captured the 2010 Asian Amateur, which earned a berth in the Masters. That year, 2011, he finished low amateur, with a tie for 27th. In 2012, he finished low amateur again at the Masters, the first time that had happened since Manny Zerman in 1991-92. He won the individual Gold medal at the 2011 World University Games and led Japan to victory in the team portion as well. He repeated his Asian Amateur win in October 2011, then triumphed at the Mitsui Sumitomo VISA Taiheiyo Masters on the Japan Golf Tour as an amateur, an event whose previous winners include Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman and Lee Westwood. We don’t know a lot about Hideki Matsuyama, mostly due to the language barrier, but when World No. 1 Adam Scott tells everyone that it’s hard to identify a weakness, that stamps you as a serious talent. Look for another major moment from Matsuyama very soon. Don’t be surprised if it’s this week at Pinehurst.