Hideki Matsuyama’s swing is defined by a slow, controlled backswing. It’s a stark contrast to his rapid rise in the world of professional golf.
Matsuyama, who turned pro in April, quickly established himself in the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking after top-10 finishes at both the U.S. Open and The Open Championship, as well as two victories on the Japan Golf Tour (Matsuyama, like Ryo Ishikawa, also won on the Japan Golf Tour as an amateur). The 21-year-old Matsuyama was No. 33 in the Official World Golf Ranking on Aug. 1, easily the top-ranked player in all of Asia and a virtual lock to make this year’s International Team for the Presidents Cup.
These are all impressive accomplishments, but not the first time Matsuyama has shone on the international stage. He made two appearances in the Masters as an amateur, making the cut both times and earning low-amateur honors in 2011 thanks to a 27th-place finish. Those Masters starts were earned with victories in the 2010 and 2011 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championships, just the second and third editions of the development initiative created by the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation, Masters Tournament and The R&A.
When the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship was created in 2009, there was wonder about whether the champion of this new event could be competitive on the commanding stage of Augusta National. Matsuyama, 2012 champion Tianlang Guan and other Asia-Pacific Amateur competitors have shown that the Championship can, indeed, create opportunities for deserving players to display their tremendous talents on one of golf’s grandest platforms. Chang-Won Han, the inaugural Asia-Pacific Amateur Champion, is currently competing professionally on various tours in Asia; he won the OneAsia Tour’s 2011 Q-School.
The Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship was founded to inspire future generations of golfers by giving them a premiere amateur championship, and a potential Masters invitation, to aim for (as well as an invitation to International Final Qualifying for The Open Championship to the winner and runner-up). Watching their peers compete at Augusta National has provided inspiration to players of this region, and the AAC’s early champions have served as worthy role models for established and aspiring players, impressing with their success in some of golf’s biggest championships.
The AAC winner has made the cut in each of the past three Masters, with two of those winners earning low-amateur honors: Matsuyama (2011) and 14-year-old Guan (2013). No other amateur championship, including the U.S. Amateur, has had its winner make the cut in each of the past three years.
Guan was the youngest competitor in Masters history by nearly two years when he played the 2013 Masters, then the youngest player to make the cut. He followed his 58th-place finish at Augusta National by making the cut at the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic. In doing so, he became the youngest player to make the cut in a PGA Tour event since 15-year-old Bob Panasik at the 1957 Canadian Open.
The player who Guan beat by a single shot at last year’s Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, Cheng-Tsung Pan, is quite accomplished in his own right. He’s now the No. 1 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. Pan, who is entering his junior year at the University of Washington, made the cut at this year’s U.S. Open (T-45) and was a first-team All-American. He also was a quarterfinalist at last year’s U.S. Amateur. Pan will win the Mark H. McCormack Medal as the world’s top amateur if he can retain the No. 1 position in the World Amateur Golf Ranking after the U.S. Amateur, which concludes Aug. 18. That award comes with exemptions to the U.S. Open and The Open Championship.
A win at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship would allow Pan to play in the Masters, as well. It also would allow him to continue the strong legacy of this nascent championship.