01/10/2014

The golfing community expects big things from Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama in 2014. The 21 year old and fellow countryman Ryo Ishikawa, he of 58 fame, project a bright future for the island nation. Japan has never produced a major winner. Asia as a continent has produced just one. South Korean YE Yang famously chased down Tiger at the 2009 PGA Championship. With a pair of talented players born in the early 1990’s that will likely change and change soon.

The chances of that happening this year, though, have taken an early hit. Matsuyama will start 2014 on the sidelines. According to the Associated Press, Matsuyama withdrew from this week’s Sony Open with a nagging wrist injury. The nature of the injury is cause for concern. Matsuyama withdrew from the HSBC Champions in November citing a back ailment. One may have influenced the other. Either way, it’s disconcerting that a 21 year old has had to battle with soreness in his wrist and back, calamities usually reserved for middle aged men.

Or maybe Matsuyama simply has big plans for 2014. He’d rather take off these late fall and winter weekends in hopes of entering Spring 100 percent. Neither the HSBC Champions or the Sony Open is considered a top event. While the HSBC boasts a talented field, the tournament takes on an exhibition feel due to its time, November, and place, China. Before withdrawing at the Sony, Matsuyama, at 23, was the sixth highest ranked player in the field. Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar and Jason Dufner are arguably the biggest stars that will take to the Waialae Country Club.

And, for what it’s worth, the Sony represented Matsuyama’s lone missed cut out of his seven 2013 PGA Tour events. He may just have bad memories.

Let’s hope that’s the case. This is a period of change for professional golf. Vijay Singh has moved on to the Champions Tour (part-time, at least). Phil Mickelson will play a reduced schedule in 2014. Stevie Williams is retiring at the end of the year. Tiger Woods just turned what feels like an ancient 38.

On the other side, a collection of youngsters from across the world, led by Irishman Rory McIlroy, a veteran at 24, have taken the sport by storm. Jordan Spieth won as a teenager last year. The Molinari brothers along with Matteo Manassero have put Italian golf on the map. Matsuyama, who finished in the top ten at both the US and British Opens in 2013, could be the most talented of the group.

Here’s to a speedy and full recovery.

Dillon Friday