Hideki Matsuyama becoming the first Japanese player to win a men’s major at the Masters is not just big news for the proud nation of Japan, it’s huge for Asia and international golf in general, says Paul McGinley.
I think Hideki Matsuyama has always believed he was a major champion in the making. When you are that good a player, you have to be thinking like that.
There was obviously a lot of pressure on his shoulders as he tried to become the first Japanese player to win a men’s major championship, and having played a lot in Japan myself, I cannot emphasise just how big golf is in that country.
The media in Japan are so proud of their players. Before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, Matsuyama had a huge following everywhere he played and was constantly surrounded by camera crews, journalists and photographers, especially in the major championships.
That kind of attention can be a burden in terms of expectation, so to deal with all of that and do his country proud is very impressive.
Hideki is a high-quality player, this is not a lucky win or some kind of fairy-tale story for a guy suddenly rising to the top and winning a major against the odds. He’s been around a long time now, and he’s had some huge wins in his 10 years as a professional.
His success has now culminated in a Masters title, arguably the greatest title in world golf and certainly one that everybody around the world will recognise. What he’s achieved at Augusta this week will do wonders for golf in his country, particularly when we have got the Olympic Games in Japan later this year.
It’s huge, huge news for the people of not just Japan, but the entire Asian continent.
Xander Schauffele gave himself a great chance to rob Matsuyama of his moment in history, making four straight birdies to reduce the deficit to just two shots with three holes to play. It reminded me of the battle between Danny Willett and Lee Westwood five years ago, with Willett hitting it stiff at 16 proving to be the decisive shot.
Schauffele could have really turned the screw with a good tee shot to the final par-three, he could have made Hideki feel very uncomfortable over his shot, but he did the opposite and tugged it in the water.
Golf is on a boom at the moment, particularly in the United States where courses have largely remained open throughout the pandemic. Players are flocking to the course in record numbers, revenues are up and the sport is in a great place right now.
So having an international winner of the Masters, and particularly one from Asia is another big boost for golf. The Green Jacket is one of the most famous prizes in sport, and even with those who do not play golf will recognise the magnitude of Hideki’s achievement here.
The Masters have always appreciated the impact the tournament has in Asia and have historically invited the top players from that region to compete. We have seen a number of high-profile Japanese players gracing the fairways of Augusta for many years, and there has long been a feeling that, one day, an Asian golfer would be slipping on a Green Jacket in the Butler Cabin.
Now that moment has finally arrived. Congratulations to Hideki Matsuyama, Masters champion.
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