THE FINISH LINE

Time is ripe for Matsuyama to grace the Singapore Open

Fresh from his Masters victory, the Japanese golf ace would be a big hit if title sponsor SMBC can lure him to the Jan 2022 event

THERE have been at least two genuine attempts to lure American superstar golfer Tiger Woods to play at the Singapore Open in the past, but those advances eventually came to nought.

Even the promise of a hefty appearance fee, touted to be in the region of between S$250,000 and S$300,000, could not convince the winner of 15 Majors to display his array of skills at Sentosa Golf Club's challenging Serapong course.

This was during the period when the event's title sponsor at the time, Barclays Bank, revived the tournament from 2005 to 2012, even once boosting the prize money to US$6 million from the initial US$1 million.

Despite the failure to land the highly-sought Woods - who, during that time made a couple of commercial visits to Singapore and played corporate golf at Sentosa and Laguna National - the organisers and sponsor deserve some plaudits for even trying to bring him over.

Now that the sponsor of the Singapore Open, which was inaugurated in 1961, is from Japan, it is worth thinking if this might be as good a time as any for Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC) to seriously consider luring the newly-crowned Masters winner Hideki Matsuyama to feature at next year's Open.

There are about eight months left until the 2022 event takes place next January, and SMBC and the organisers would do well to use all their powers of persuasion to try and convince Matsuyama to play at an event he has never graced.

There is a prize purse of US$1 million on offer which, admittedly, is much less than the US$2.07 million that the 29-year-old Japanese ace bagged for his Masters victory.

He is also said to be worth in the region of US$20 million per year thanks to his numerous endorsement deals, an amount that could snowball to as much as US$600 million over the rest of his life.

For Matsuyama, money should not be the main issue when deciding where to play. But there can be this enchanting thought where his very appearance in the Lion City would please a whole country of enthusiastic golf fans that include a legion of his Singapore-based countrymen who are among the more active social players here.

There have been previous Masters winners such as Vijay Singh, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Angel Cabrera, Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth, all of whom have graced the Singapore Open in the past two decades.

But Matsuyama's imposing presence could turn out to be the biggest coup for the Japanese sponsors who must be reminded that the Singapore Open was once a haven for golfers from the Land of the Rising Sun.

Testament to this is the fact that between 1969 to 1976, Japan produced five champions (Tomio Kamata, Haruo Yasuda, Takaaki Kono, Yutaka Suzuki and Kesahiko Uchida) at the Singapore Open, when the event was staged at the Singapore Island Country Club (SICC).

A big impact

If SMBC had come on board as the title sponsor just three years earlier in 2013, Matsuyama, who turned pro that very year, would have made a big impact at the Singapore Open as a Japan Golf Tour Organisation regular, because a quarter of the entries for the SMBC event have been coming from that Tour.

In the only time Matsuyama played at a competitive event in Singapore a decade ago, he stole the show with victory at the Asia Pacific Amateur Championships held at SICC.

He was, however, monosyllabic at the post-event media interview, rounding off his brief replies with a humble "arigato gozaimashita (thank you)", due to the absence of a translator by his side.

Ten years on, and Matsuyama still remains fairly tight-lipped when facing reporters, although his spoken English has noticeably improved. Obviously, the taciturn champion prefers to let his golf clubs do all the talking.

Born in Ehime prefecture, the 29-year-old was introduced to the game by his dad - a keen golfer himself - at the age of four. In high school, he earned the nickname "RPShowtime" (from role-play showtime) because of his skills at the poker table.

Yet he managed to pull the right card out of the deck in deciding on a golf career after finishing university. He has never looked back since, and is now the talk of the town - both in golf-mad Japan and the rest of the sporting world.

Already, Matsuyama hopes his success at the Masters can inspire a whole new generation of golfers from Japan, including his own daughter, who turns four this July.

Next up for the humble golfer is the Tokyo Olympics, with Matsuyama eager to play at the Men's Golf Competition at the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Saitama from July 29 to Aug 1. Should he win that coveted gold medal on home soil, his already bright star will shine even more.

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