Japan’s next star? Takumi Kanaya is set for a big year and he starts it at the Sony Open

His compatriot Hideki Matsuyama’s success has already inspired the 23-year-old – could there be more to come?

The Japanese people were ecstatic in the wake of Hideki Matsuyama's victory in last year's Masters, the country's first Major Championship triumph in the men's game.

But the effect on one particular golfer, watching from a hotel room in Nagoya, was not just profound, but immediate.

Eight months on, Takumi Kanaya is ready to take the next step: he's proved himself on the Japan Tour, now he wants to join the world's elite and he'll take the first step on that path in this week's Sony Open at the Waialae Country Club.

Back in April, the 23-year-old was preparing for his first start in his home circuit's 2021 season as Matsuyama completed his success at Augusta National.

"I was watching the telecast and cheering him on in the hotel," he said ahead of this week's first round in Honolulu. "I was very inspired by his win."

How inspired? He carded a 65 to claim the pre-final round lead in his next start at the Token Homemate Cup and emulated his muse by converting the win in style.

It was his second victory in just nine starts as a professional, but those numbers - impressive as they are - don't come close to telling the full story of a player bursting with promise.

Kanaya was a stalwart amateur, topping the world rankings for 55 weeks, winning the 2018 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, twice threatening to win the Japan Open as a teenager, and claiming a first Japan Tour victory at the Taiheiyo Masters a year before he joined the paid ranks.

Between lifting his second and third trophies he'd highlighted his potential on the world stage by finishing third at the Australian Open and ninth in the Saudi International, but Matsuyama's triggering proved short-lived.

The winning touch deserted him in late spring and when he ventured to America he missed the cut in both the PGA Championship and the Memorial Tournament before a pair of top 30s on the European Tour revived his spirits.

He couldn't make the cut in the Open, but he followed that with 10 top 10 finishes in his final 13 starts of the year.

That consistent run, which included tied seventh at the PGA Tour's ZOZO Championship, prompted a rise into the world's top 50 and with it gained an invitation to Matsuyama's defence of his Green Jacket.

It will not be his debut at Augusta National, however. In fact, he not only played there following his Asia-Pacific triumph in 2019, he also played practice rounds with Matsuyama.

"I spent two days with him and he taught me many things," he said that week. "Things like, don't hit it here or do hit it here because there will be a slope that will bring the ball back here. He taught me a lot about the golf course."

The lessons were quickly learned, with an electric start to his first round.

"It was a dream come true," he said. "I started birdie, birdie and to see your name on the leaderboard is pretty neat."

He made the cut, but little impression and will now hope that the lessons of his first 15 months as a professional are ready to reap rewards.

After teeing it up in Hawaii he travels to the Middle East to play the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and Dubai Desert Classic, then returns to America to play the Arnold Palmer Invitational. His aim at all four is to gain sufficient world ranking points to earn entry to THE PLAYERS Championship and the World Golf Championship Dell Match Play.

Then he will venture down Magnolia Lane again.

In 2019 he was able to enjoy himself, spending a night in the Crow's Nest, collecting souvenirs, and playing without fear.

In 2021 he watched from afar and was motivated.

"But this year," he said, "playing as a professional, the Masters will be a key event for me. It gives me the opportunity to earn a card for the PGA or European Tour."

A good week in Hawaii wouldn't hurt, either.

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