Amateur sensation Hideki Matsuyama has spoken of his excitement at playing in The Open Championship for the first time.
The 21 year-old Japanese player, who has already won a professional event on the Japan Tour, took one of the four places available in golf’s oldest Major Championship at the International Final Qualifying – Asia event at Amata Spring Country Club on Friday.
Matsuyama bounced back from a bogey on 16 and a double bogey on 17 to clinch the coveted spot with a fantastic approach to the 18th green which left him with a tap-in for birdie. He finished on a nine-under-par total of 135 for the two rounds, four shots behind the winner Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand. Japan’s Daisuke Maruyama and Ashun Wu of China were the other qualifiers.
The two-time Asia-Pacific Amateur Champion said he was thrilled to be playing in The Open at Muirfield. “I’m excited and happy because I made it. After 16 and 17, I told myself to calm down which I did. I’m glad with the way I handled myself out there. This is my first appearance at The Open and I can’t wait for it.
“I gained a lot of experience when I played in The Masters and it improved my game and maturity. I’m sure I’ll become even better after playing in The Open,” he said.
Matsuyama, who is the highest ranked Asian player at fifth in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, was determined to avoid a repeat of his late collapse last year when he dropped six shots in the last three holes to miss the play-off for the fourth and final place in The Open by two shots.
He will now have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of his countrymen who have performed well at the famous East Lothian links in recent years. Isao Aoki distinguished himself at Muirfield in the 1980 Open Championship with a glorious 63 in the third round as he gave chase to eventual winner Tom Watson before finishing in 12th position. Fellow Japanese great Jumbo Ozaki finished six shots behind Champion Nick Faldo in a tie for 11th position at the 1987 Open. Shigeki Maruyama missed out by a single shot on the four-way play-off that decided the 2002 Open at Muirfield, won by Ernie Els, after being tied for the lead at the half-way stage.
Matsuyama has played twice in the Masters Tournament, finishing the low amateur in 2011. He qualified again last year having won the Asian Amateur Championship for the second consecutive year. He won the Japan Collegiate Championship last year and notched up four top ten finishes including runner-up spots in the Sun Chorella Classic and the Dunlop Phoenix events.
The 142nd Open Championship will be played at Muirfield from 14-21 July.