By Martin Blake
She once translated Japanese to English for the great Karrie Webb, and it was the beginning of a wonderful friendship and mentoring experience for Kono Matsumoto.
The 23-year-old Melburnian, one of 12 elite players in this weekend’s The Athena tournament at Sandy Links in Melbourne, thinks her exchange with seven-time major winner Webb a few years ago has had a big influence on her golfing career already.
And that career is still in its infancy.
The Webb connection came about a few years ago because Matsumoto has Japanese heritage – she was born in Japan and speaks the language fluently – and Webb was in Melbourne with a Japanese tour group and needing to make a connection. “She (Webb) is not only the greatest player of all time but she’s the best mentor,” said the Victorian. “She’s a nice person. I can always rely on her and ask her a lot of things, so she’s my biggest inspiration.
“With Karrie, I have a good relationship with her. I helped her with a couple of Japanese tour groups that she had in Melbourne. I actually interpreted for her. From there, we’ve built a good friendship. We keep in touch every now and then and she’s always around when I need to her ask her questions.”
Matsumoto moved to Melbourne with her family when she was five years old. She picked up golf with help from her golf-crazy father Shigeki, and with some freak luck. “Dad took me to the (Women’s) Australian Open at Kingston Heath (in 2008, when Webb won a playoff), and I actually won a set of junior clubs in the MyGolf centre!”
The bug bit quickly. Aged nine and equipped with new clubs, she began playing with her father at the very venue that this week’s Athena is being played – the public course at Sandy Links. “My first game of golf was right here at Sandy golf club,” she said. “Honestly, we played every weekend here, although it’s nothing like it used to be.
“I didn’t play great on my first day of golf. I missed the ball a few times, but I definitely had fun with my family!”
Matsumoto was an outstanding junior, joined Victoria Golf Club in the Melbourne sandbelt, took up the renowned Denis McDade as her coach and played in a winning Victorian team at Golf Australia’s Interstate Series alongside the likes of Gabi Ruffels. She also created a chunk of history at the 2014 Australian Girls’ Amateur at Yering Meadows, becoming the youngest-ever winner of the national championship aged 14.
But for a long time, she could not be selected in state teams and High Performance programs because she did not have Australian citizenship. Her parents, Shigeki and Yukie, pushed her to make the application until she became an Australian, and that’s why she says they are her motivation to this day. “I want to give back to them,” she said. “They gave me all this opportunity to be the player that I am, so I’d like to give back to them. They’re definitely my biggest motivation. They spent a lot of money for me to be here right now.”
She turned professional in 2022 behind a razor-sharp short game. Her immediate goal is to get playing rights on the lucrative women’s Japanese Tour, and she will attend the Q-School there soon. “I want to become the best player in Japan,” she said.
Outside of golf, she can be found bingeing on Netflix or working as a barista at Tax Agent café in Bentleigh, not so far from this week’s venue. She’s part-time at the café, and makes a mean oat latte, her favourite. “I honestly love making coffees,” she said. “It’s definitely therapeutic for me. That’s my favourite thing to do outside of golf. I’ve been working there every Sunday and hopefully a bit more when the golf season’s over.”
She is thankful for what golf has given her already. “I think golf has shaped me in a person in a very good way. It’s made me a calm, patient person playing the frustrating game that it is. It’s so rewarding to wait for the process and to know that all the hard work will pay off one day. For my life in general, I think it’s doing me good.”
Matsumoto played in the inaugural Athena in Queensland as an amateur and made the final before losing to Kristall Blum. “I think the concept is great,” she said. “You can be the best player and not make it into the matchplay section because your trick shots are not good or your revovery shots aren’t good. That element is cool. It gives everyone a chance.
“I think people who watch The Athena this week will understand how much fun it is. It’s not just an old persons’ game. You can play it at whatever age, it’s fun and you get to meet so many people.”
The Athena is Saturday and Sunday at Sandy Links. Click here for information.