The Japanese golfer Hideki Matsuyama has accepted an invitation to play a round with Donald Trump at the start of the president’s 11-country tour of Asia next week, but claimed he had initially hesitated, fearing – somewhat implausibly – that he “wasn’t good enough”.
The world No 4 will join Trump and the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, at Kasumigaseki country club, the venue for the Tokyo 2020 Asia Olympic tournament, as the two leaders resume their golf diplomacy amid fears of more North Korean missile launches.
Matsuyama said he had been taken aback by the invitation, but confirmed he had accepted the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”.
“I wasn’t sure if I’d be good enough,” he was quoted as saying by Kyodo news agency while defending his WGC series title in Shanghai. “I hope to have fun so the day will be engraved on my memory. And I’ll do my best not to lose.”
The 25-year-old will join a list of top professionals to have played golf with the president, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and the women’s world No 3, Lexi Thompson.
In February, the leaders reportedly bonded over a round of golf at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where they were joined by Ernie Els, a four-time major winner. That summit ended in farce as they were forced to quickly respond to a North Korean missile test when about to eat dinner the following evening.
Trump, who once chastised Barack Obama for his love of the sport, has been criticised for spending too much time on the golf course rather than attending to affairs of state.
Japan’s top government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, brushed off the suggestion that Abe and Trump’s time together would be better spent discussing the threat of North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programmes than working on their driving and putting. “The situation is very serious, but it is also quite important to deepen friendship while taking thorough measures to manage the crisis,” Suga said.