From the Land of the Rising Sun to the Costa del Sol
He may be the least-known of the 24 players taking part in this week’s Volvo World Match Play Championship at Finca Cortesín, and he’s certainly travelled the furthest to get here, but Japanese star Tetsuji Hiratsuka has certainly not travelled all this way just to make up the numbers.
Having flown 6,952 miles / 11,188km from his home in Japan to make his debut in the Volvo World Match Play Championship, the sole Japanese and Asian representative at the world’s most longstanding match play event was glad to touch down in Spain again and take his first look at the Finca Cortesín course.
“I was a bit surprised but also very happy when I was told I had qualified for the event,” said the man from Kyoto, explaining, “I knew of the event from when my compatriot Isao Aoki won in 1978 at Wentworth."
And his verdict on the Finca Cortesín course was, “Very tough, in very nice condition, and I like playing is Spain,” adding, “I played the Andalucía Open last year [where he finished in a tie for 18th place and followed that up with a top-10 finish in Morocco] and Q School, so I know the country quite well.”
Making his eighth European Tour start of the season, the 41-uyear-old finds himself the meat in an all-Spanish sandwich, alongside former world number-two Sergio García and local hero Álvaro Quirós, but he is not overawed by the company he is keeping.
“Every player here has to be a very good golfer, but in match play, it’s man against man and anything can happen, so I definitely believe I can win the tournament.”
Last week, he was lining-up in the Japanese PGA Championship at the Karasuyamajo Country Club in Tochigi Prefecture, where he finished 55th, but said, “I’m honoured to be representing my country and all of Asia this week, but there will be some pressure on me to play well.”
He says, “My short game is the strongest part of my game, and it will come in useful around here,” and the statistics bear that out; he leads the current European Tour Genworth Statistics in Single Putts per Round, at 7.33 and finished last term second only to Retief Goosen in Average Putts Per Round with 28.4.
Tetsuji Hiratsuka won three times on the Asian Tour in 2010 and again, last year, the prestigious Asia Pacific Panasonic Open and has won five times on his ‘home’ Japanese Tour, which he describes as, ‘Tough, but nothing compared to the European Tour.”But only time will tell whether the father-of-one can cut it with the very best around, on a course he does not know and in a format he rarely plays, but, as he says, “In match play, anything can happen.”