Hideki will have an awful lot of pressure to deal with tonight - we assess whether he'll be able to handle it...
Can Matsuyama Handle The Masters Pressure?
He takes the potentially even bigger advantage of simply being Japanese.
Whether a practising Zen Buddhist or not, Matsuyama, like all Japanese, will have been deeply influenced by his country’s long established adherence to this ancient philosophy/religion and a blueprint for happier life that could have been conceived with the old game itself in mind.
Consider for a moment these examples from Zen’s cornerstones of wisdom for success in anything…slow down your mind; master the art of concentration; practice staying in the moment; transmit serenity to others.
The first three of these ancient wisdoms is an obvious go-to for golfers whether riding high in Augusta in April or preparing for a wee match against an old combatant with a couple of pints in the clubhouse at stake but the fourth, the transmission of serenity to others, might seem rather dodgy. It is not.
If you feel I am transmitting serenity on golf course, that nothing is really phasing me whether up the emotional ladder or down, then I quietly am going to irritate the hell out of you. This is not not what Zen intends but in golf it could be the difference between failure and a glorious, historic success for Japan.
Certainly when Matsuyama is on form, in the zone, perhaps high on the Zen thing then he is one complete player. Control, belief and patience are essential attributes for any wannabe champion and Hideki seems to have access to them all on his good days. We know he has the game, his high level victories around the world eloquent evidence of this fact, but what we will now find out is not only does he have the good fortune but does he have the Zen focus to bring this Masters journey to a victorious conclusion.
He, we, do not yet know how he will feel – I mean really feel – on the first tee. He will be a mixture of nerves and excited anticipation and that is natural but will he be able to cloak these feelings with a big cloud of calm. And if he is still leading when he stands on the tenth tee what will his emotions be then?
This is the biggest test. Twenty-two years ago a younger, slimmer and rawer Lee Westwood found himself on that 10th tee and ahead of everyone else on an Augusta Sunday. His playing partner, Tiger Woods, smiled thinly at the Englishman before saying “ play away”.
Lee did just that but he also fell away. Quickly. A couple of hours later, his Masters assault over, he joined his then manager Chubby Chandler and me in the clubhouse. I asked him how it had felt to be leading the Masters with nine holes left? His answer resonates still…”Honestly? I felt like I wanted to throw up.”
Mind you, Zen Buddhism had yet to catch on in Worksop back then.
Related: Masters Leaderboard 2021