The No. 1-ranked amateur in the world earned his first Masters invitation with a playoff victory in the 2021 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) in Dubai five months earlier, following in the footsteps of 2018 AAC champion Takumi Kanaya and two-time AAC and 2021 Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama as male Japanese golfers to earn their way to the Masters as amateurs.
After his inaugural trip down Magnolia Lane, Nakajima got the chance to literally follow his elder countrymen as the trio that has established Japan as a major pipeline to men’s professional golf enjoyed a practice round together.
“Following the footsteps of Takumi Kanaya and Masters Champion Hideki Matsuyama, it’s an honor,” Nakajima said. “Hideki and Takumi have been my mentors, so that's a great connection for Asia. That's the influence that we are seeing right now.”
Entering the Tournament, Nakajima said he was nervous about playing in front of the thousands of patrons that would be watching during his pre-tournament press conference, but if he was nervous during that opening round, he didn’t show it. He fired an even-par 72 in the first round with birdies on Nos. 2, 8 and 13 to sit inside the top 20 and tied with Matsuyama.
“The two [par-5s] over there [on the front nine], I could reach the green in two strokes. And the last one, I made a nice up and down. So I think my plan [on all three holes] paid off,” said Nakajima after his first round.
Nakajima struggled through windy conditions on Friday, and while his second-round 79 wasn’t quite enough to make the 36-hole cut, it didn’t dampen what had been an incredible first Masters for the rising Japanese star.
“I would like to be proud to myself to represent all the amateur players in the world,” Nakajima said. “I have watched the Masters many times on TV, and it's still like a dream. It's pretty surreal.”