Japanese Golfers at Masters Aim to Lift Spirits in Quake-Stricken Homeland

Hideki Matsuyama of Japan said he struggled with whether to give up his boyhood dream of playing golf’s Masters Tournament after the earthquake and tsunami that devastated his home country last month.

Matsuyama, the 2010 Asian Amateur champion, said he ultimately decided to come to the year’s first major championship at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, after being encouraged by friends and family. The tournament starts tomorrow.

“The Masters, which has been my dream, is their dream as well,” Matsuyama, one of four Japanese golfers in the tournament field, told reporters through an interpreter on April 4. “Doing my best here is my obligation for them.”

Matsuyama, 19, was training in Australia when the magnitude-9 earthquake struck on March 11, leaving more than 27,000 people dead or missing, according to Japan’s National Police Agency. The quake also caused as much as 25 trillion yen ($299 billion) in damage to the world’s third-largest economy.

A freshman at Tohoku Fukushi University in Sendai, Matsuyama returned to Japan and found his dorm room in shambles. Almost half of the dead or missing are from Miyagi prefecture, of which Sendai is the capital. Matsuyama struggled to find something to eat and called the scene “indescribable” and “beyond imagination.”

Matsuyama will become the first Japanese amateur to play in the Masters when he tees off tomorrow with 2008 champion Trevor Immelman of South Africa and 2009 U.S. Open winner Lucas Glover. Matsuyama said he hopes to play well in Augusta to help lift spirits back home.

‘Encouragement’

“I would like to do my best to provide the Japanese people encouragement,” Matsuyama said. “I wanted to recognize the people in Japan and I wanted to thank those people who supported me.”

Professionals Ryo Ishikawa, Hiroyuki Fujita and Yuta Ikeda are the other Japanese golfers in the 99-player Masters field.

Ishikawa, also 19, said last week that he will donate his 2011 tournament winnings to relief efforts in Japan. He was third on the Japanese tour’s money list with just over $1.8 million last year and also won about $230,000 from events in the U.S. and Europe.

A nine-time winner on the Japanese tour, Ishikawa is seeking to make the cut for weekend play at the Masters for the first time in three appearances.

“I understand that many sports events in Japan are postponed or canceled because of the quake, but at the same time I would like to emphasize the power and energy that sports can create for those people to encourage them,” Ishikawa said in Augusta. “It’s my intention to play really well. It will be the best way to encourage people in Japan.”

First Out

Ishikawa will play with Bill Haas of the U.S. and two-time British Open champion Padraig Harrington of Ireland. Fujita, who is 41 and making his debut at Augusta National, will be the first Japanese player on the course tomorrow, grouped with 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir of Canada and two-time U.S. Open winner Retief Goosen of South Africa.

Ikeda, 25, finished 29th in his first trip to the Masters a year ago. Tomorrow, he’ll play alongside a pair of Americans -- 2003 U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk and 2009 British Open winner Stewart Cink.

Ishikawa said playing well at the Masters this week is the best way the Japanese golfers can help recovery efforts at home, both from an emotional standpoint and, in his case, an economic one.

“I see how those people supported me and now it’s my turn to support those people who are in need,” Ishikawa said. “I recognize that as my social status in Japan is getting higher, I believe that is one of the responsibilities. I would love to continue to do that as a professional.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Matuszewski in Augusta, Georgia, at matuszewski@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

Press spacebar to pause and continue. Press esc to stop.

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.