KIAWAH ISLAND, South Carolina: Japan's Hideki Matsuyama said he understands why many in his home country want this summer's Tokyo Olympics cancelled as the country continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic but he hopes the event can still go forward.
The Masters champion said the United States is further along in its efforts to vaccinate people against the virus than in Japan, where only about 3.5per cent of its population of about 126 million has been vaccinated, according to a Reuters tracker.
"The virus is looked at a little bit differently in Japan than here in the United States," Matsuyama told reporters ahead of this week's PGA Championship in South Carolina.
"Just look around today, lots of people are here watching golf without masks, where in Japan they're still very cautious. I can certainly understand those people who are voicing their opinion about the Olympics."
Health experts and medical groups in Japan are among those who have cautioned against holding the Games, while an online petition calling for them to be cancelled was signed by hundreds of thousands of people.
Matsuyama said he was looking forward to competing at the Games but said he is primarily concerned with winning more major tournaments after he became the first Japanese man to do so with his triumph at Augusta National.
"As a golfer, the four majors are really what we strive to win. Not that we don't try to win the Olympics, but those are the events that are very important," he said.
He would feel sympathy for athletes in sports where the Olympics are far and away the most important competition.
"There are other sports where the Olympics are the ultimate, the pinnacle of their sport, and so I hope that the Olympics will be able to be held and in a great fashion that will make my fellow Japanese citizens proud," he said.
The Tokyo Games are scheduled to begin on July 23.
(Reporting by Andrew Both; Writing by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Toby Davis)