October 26, 2017: Sean Maruyama has begun his quest to return to Augusta National as he makes his Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship debut in New Zealand. The winner earns spots in both the 2018 Masters Tournament and The 147th Open at Carnoustie.
Unlike most players competing at Royal Wellington this week, Maruyama has already been to the Masters – and even hit some shots.
When very young, he caddied for his father Shigeki in the family-friendly par-three contest on the Wednesday before the Masters.
“I think it’s every golfer’s dream to play in the Masters, especially for me because my Dad played in it. It would be awesome. I still have photos of when I caddied for him,” said Maruyama, now in his final year at Campbell Hall School in Los Angeles.
The California-born 17-year-old speaks fluent English and also Japanese as the only language he speaks with his parents.
This week, the 2016 Western Junior champion is the highest-ranked player in a six-man Japan team that includes best friend Kaito Onishi who plays college golf for the USC Trojans (University of Southern California).
“The AAC is great. This is the event I always wanted to play in so it’s a dream come true for this year and hopefully I can play in the Masters and The Open,” Maruyama said.
“It’s also great having Kaito here and being his roommate. I’ve played with him since I was young and got to know him well.”
Short and slight in stature, Maruyama faces an uphill battle trying to keep up with some of the bigger hitters at the ninth AAC as he competes for the biggest prizes in amateur golf.
He’s well aware of the pedigree of many of the field’s leading players including the towering Travis Smyth, No. 11 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and the top-ranked player at Royal Wellington. However, the Japanese doesn’t concern himself with the strengths of others. He knows his own – and himself.
“Even if I don’t hit it the furthest, I can still work my way around the course and score with my short game and putting. I just need to improve those parts of my game instead of trying to hit it as far as them because that’s not going to happen. I think finding my strength and trying to make it the best I can is the key to my success, for the future as well,” he said.
“I haven’t been playing my best recently but I’ve been consistently in the top 10. I think that’s what’s important in golf – when you’re not playing your best but you’re still putting yourself in contention. I think that’s probably the biggest key.”
Committed to UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) from 2018, Maruyama is rapidly emerging as a reputable golfer in his own right and continuing his quest to emerge from his father’s shadow.
That’s not easy when your dad was not only a 10-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour but also the most successful Japanese player on the PGA Tour, with three titles, until Hideki Matsuyama’s emergence in recent years.
After nine wins in Japan, Shigeki joined the PGA TOUR full time in 2000 and moved to the US where he recorded a victory each year from 2001 through 2003, also recording top-five finishes in the 2002 US Open and The Open in 2004.
Maruyama shares many physical similarities with his father including the easy smile that led to his dad’s reputation as ‘The Smiling Assassin’. He has even subconsciously inherited an interesting pre-shot habit that augurs well.
“I used to watch videos of the tournaments that he won and it was really impressive. He was a great player and hopefully he can play on the Champions Tour,” Maruyama said.
“Some people say I smile like him. Also, my short game and my routine before I hit is pretty similar because I tap my finger on the grip. That’s what my dad used to do. I didn’t copy him. I just do it naturally, which is interesting.”
The ninth AAC includes six Australia players in the top 70 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking and a six-strong China team featuring World No. 39 Andy Zhang and former champions Jin Cheng (2015) and Guan Tianlang (2012).
As well as Maruyama, other leading players include India’s Rayhan Thomas, ‘Kevin’ Yu Chun-an of Chinese Taipei, Nick Voke of hosts New Zealand, Thailand’s Sadom Kaewkanjana, Korea’s Lee Won-jun and Lloyd Jefferson Go of the Philippines.
The Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) is organised by the Founding Partners – Asia Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC), the Masters Tournament and The R&A – and will be televised across 160 countries and reach millions of homes around the world.
The Championship is also supported by six Proud Partners – AT&T, 3M, Mercedes-Benz, Samsung, Zurich and UPS – and two Scoring Partners, Rolex and IBM.