The 2012 Masters might not start for three days, but as soon as the gates to Augusta National Golf Club swung open at 8am this morning, the crowds spilled in and the sense of anticipation swept around the world’s most pristine golf course in an instant.

Masters week is finally here. This morning in Augusta, Georgia, under an utterly cloudless blue sky, one ‘patron’ even took a moment to photograph the grass in front of his feet. This was not a golf hole of course, but 20 yards away from the first fairway, where the immaculate turf remains so thick, green, short and evenly cut you feel guilty just walking on it. He’ll probably frame that one.

Tiger Woods and Mark O’Meara were among the first golfers on the golf course this morning, the old friends staring on the 10th tee. Early starters on the first were a Far Eastern trio of what seems like limitless potential: South Korea’s impressive Sang-moon Bae, the 25-year-old making his Masters debut, and two 20-year-olds from Japan, Ryo Ishikawa, and the amateur Hideki Matsuyama, the Asian Amateur champion.

Ishikawa made his Masters debut in 2009, at the age of 17, but if anyone can eclipse the rising Ishikawa star in Japan it is Matsuyama. Ranked fourth in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, Matsuyama has already made history at Augusta, when he became the first amateur golfer from Japan to play in the Masters last year, having won his first Asian Amateur title. Not only did he play, but he was the only amateur to make the cut last year, eventually finishing in a tie for 27th with names including Mickelson, Jimenez, Kuchar and Poulter, to earn Augusta’s silver cup as leading amateur.

Matsuyama is proudly wearing the colours and badge of Tohoku Fukushi University in Sendai this week, where he is a student. Sendai was devastated by the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, and 13 students at the university alone lost their lives.

The level-headed Matsuyama has decided to remain amateur until he completes his degree, believing this will be the best preparation for him to compete at the highest level in world golf in the future.

“If Matsuyama had ambition to play on the Japan Tour alone he would already be professional,” says the golfer’s university coach, Abe Yasuhiro, as he followed his charge down the fifth fairway this morning. “Matsuyama’s ambitions are to play in the Majors – he is looking at the bigger picture.”
Then beside the sixth tee, as Matsuyama’s three-ball teed of on this 180-yard par-three, Yasuhiro watched in quiet satisfaction as Matsuyama struck a searing mid-iron to within 12 feet of the pin, and nearest to the hole among his group.

Article courtesy of Mercedes-Benz, International Partner of the Masters Tournament.