The defining moment of Hideki Matsuyama, the standardbearer for golf in Japan’s young and ascendant career, was winning the 2016 WGC-HSBC Champions.
Pundits continue to tip Hideki Matsuyama as potential Major champion after his successful season, and it all started after he won the 2016 WGC-HSBC Champions.
When Hideki Matsuyama began to play at the 2016 World Golf ChampionshipHSBC Champions, he was just another good, young player, a talented 20-something on the brink of stardom. By the end of the week, Matsuyama had emerged as an international force.
Matsuyama followed his victory at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions with two additional victories on the PGA TOUR and finished first in the FedExCup’s Regular-Season standings.
By the end of the season, he was the world No. 3 player. When pundits spoke about potential Major champions, Matsuyama’s name was mentioned in the same breath as Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy. And it all started at the HSBC Champions.
That should not be surprising. Since the tournament became a World Golf Championships event in 2009, the HSBC Champions has produced a roll call of exceptional winners. Four of the eight are Major champions, and the other four have been members of either a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team. Players from six different countries have won the event over the last eight years, making it truly an international tournament.
“It’s great for the growth of the game in that part of the world. The tournament has been growing a lot in the last few years,” said 2010 HSBC Champions winner Francesco Molinari of Italy.
“More and more players from the U.S. are going over there to play. I think it’s great to go there and allow fans to experience once a year golf live, a chance to see the best players in the world.”
For his part, Molinari has found China very much to his liking. Besides his 2010 HSBC Champions’ triumph, he teamed with brother Edoardo to win the World Cup of Golf for Italy in Shenzhen in 2009.
Molinari will be playing in his seventh HSBC Champions, trying to dethrone Matsuyama who defends his title Oct. 23-29 when the tournament returns to the Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai.
The top players in the game will gather in China for one of the most important tournaments of the fall, one that can set the tone for the 2017-18 season - just like it did for Matsuyama. This year, the HSBC Champions will be the third of three Asian events in a row, following the US$7 million CIMB Classic in Malaysia and the first-year US$9.25 million CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES in South Korea.
The HSBC Champions victory was significant in many ways for Matsuyama. In addition to a three-year PGA TOUR exemption, Official World Golf Ranking points and prize money, he became the first player from Japan - the first from Asia, actually - to win a WGC event. It tied Matsuyama with Shigeki Maruyama, one of his boyhood heroes, for most PGA TOUR wins by a Japanese player, a mark that Matsuyama has since broken.
“To win the HSBC was probably my biggest achievement,” Matsuyama said. “I was the first Asian to win that event, and to me, that was a big deal.”
Matsuyama’s win at the HSBC Champions was a defining moment in his young, ascendant career. It was a tremendous victory over a field that was stacked with the best players in the world. Matsuyama opened the tournament with a 66 and never slowed. He finished with rounds of 65-68-66 to finish at 17-under. He completed the final 45 holes without a bogey and won by seven shots over Henrik Stenson and Daniel Berger, the thirdwidest margin of victory in a WGC event.
“Hideki played just unbelievable, and it was a pleasure to watch,” Berger said. “He struck it well. He putted well. He chipped it well. He did everything well, and that’s why he won by so many.”
In fact, barring an unprecedented collapse in the last round, the only drama on the final day was whether Matsuyama would wind up with 30 birdies for the week. A bold approach shot on the 72nd hole wound up in the water and Matsuyama had to settle for 29.
With his tank of confidence at full capacity, Matsuyama continued to build on his HSBC Champions’ victory. He won again at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February-successfully defending his title and again at the World Golf Championships Bridge stone Invitational in July. Only Justin Thomas (four) won more times during the 2016-17 regular season.
Matsuyama, who was married and became a father in 2017, has been forced to deal with increased scrutiny from the media, especially in his native Japan. A large corps of reporters and photographers are on hand at each event to chronicle his success. The attention has helped raise his profile in his home country to the point, where he is virtually unable to go out for a meal without being recognised. It has also made him the standard-bearer for golf in Japan and elevated what fans imagine for him, a fact he recognises.
“The expectations of people around me are high,” Matsuyama said. “I don’t really worry too much about that. Hopefully not put too much pressure on myself. But I know other people expect a lot of me and all I can do is just try my best.”
The HSBC Champions has a history of producing great winners, like Matsuyama. The event was created in 2005 and became an official European Tour and Asian Tour event a year later. It achieved World Golf Championships status in 2009 and became a part of the PGA TOUR’s FedExCup schedule in 2013.
The tournament draws the game’s best players each year. In 2016 the field included ten major champions and eight of the top-10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking. Twenty-five countries were represented in the 78-player field.
“It says something about HSBC. It says something about this golf tournament,” said World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who won the event in 2013. “They do a great job here. I think you’ll see more and more guys wanting to come over here and play.”
“We play [HSBC Champions] outside the U.S., so I think it’s very important for global fans to have a chance to see the players there and to be part of such an amazing tournament that’s part of an amazing series of tournaments such as the WGCs,” Molinari added. “It’s now nice to see the American stars travelling more and playing a lot all over the world.”
Scotland’s Russell Knox, the 2015 HSBC Champions’ winner, said, “It’s amazing when you get to play against the strongest fields in golf. There are so many massive names here, and it’s the best way to test your game to see how good you stack up against the best of the best.”
Most of the competitors, like Matsuyama, bring a lofty goal.
“Becoming No. 1 in the world is the goal I think of all of us out here,” Matsuyama said. “I still have some weak links in my game that I have to work on, but hopefully, little by little, I’ll be able to improve and to fix what I need to, and hopefully someday compete for No. 1.”
Following his victory at the WGC-HSBC Champions in 2016, Hideki Matsuyama had two additional victories on the PGA TOUR and finished first in the FedExCup’s Regular-Season standings. By the end of the season, he was the world No. 3 player and became the standardbearer of golf in Japan.
“The tournament has been growing a lot in the last few years,” said 2010 WGC-HSBC Champions winner
Matsuyama celebrates his victory with his caddy following the final round of 2016 WGCHSBC Champions
“They do a great job here. I think you’ll see more and more guys wanting to come over here and play,” said World No. 1 Dustin
Johnson, who won the event in 2013