By Steve Keating
AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) – Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama got a standing ovation from a room of golf legends after serving up what Jack Nicklaus described on Thursday as the best Champions Dinner ever.
High praise indeed coming from a golfer who has a record six Green Jackets in his closet and has hosted and attended many such dinners at stately Augusta National.
But while the food was “sensational”, what made the evening extra-special was not the thought Matsuyama put into the menu but his speech which was short but as sweet as the Japanese strawberry shortcake served up for desert.
The first Japanese man to win a major, Matsuyama had repeatedly expressed how nervous he was to be hosting the dinner and having to make a speech, particularly since he speaks little English and does most interviews with the help of a translator.
“I thought that we probably had the best dinner that we’ve ever had, and not so much from the standpoint of food, but the food was sensational,” gushed Nicklaus, who also holds the record for most major wins with 18.
“I think the food was probably the best we ever had.
“Then Hideki, he gave about a three-minute speech in English. Doesn’t speak very much English and he did not look at a note.
“I’m sure he had some help getting it on paper and then memorized it or whatever. But he was terrific.”
South African Gary Player, the first international player to win the Masters, said he remembered how nervous he was meeting the golf greats like Ben Hogan and wanted to make Matsuyama feel at ease.
Along with preparing a menu and speech, Matsuyama also had to find time to get ready for the defence of his Masters title and trying to join Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Nick Faldo as the only players to win back-to-back Green Jackets.
“I’ve been to Japan almost 30 times. I wanted to try and make Hideki feel at home,” said Player, after joining Nicklaus and Tom Watson for the Masters ceremonial opening tee shots.
“I can remember how I felt, and he must have felt even more awkward because he doesn’t speak English very well.
“But I was absolutely in awe, as everybody was, that he stood up and he just gave this incredible speech.
“Everybody stood up and just gave him a standing ovation and made him feel welcome.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Augusta, Editing by Ed Osmond)