JAPAN’S NEW EMPEROR RULES AUGUSTA
Tokyo Olympic flame beckons after conquering Augusta
HIDEKI Matsuyama won’t accept the title as Japan’s greatest golfer, but after a 25-year journey from child novice to Masters winner, the humble star will accept some praise.
“I can’t say I’m the greatest,” Matsuyama said. “However, I’m the first to win a major, and if that’s the bar, then I’ve set it.”
Matsuyama, 29, won the 85th Masters on Monday, becoming the first Japanese man to win a major title and capping a 25-year dream that started when his father began teaching him the sport when he was only four years old, even switching schools to boost his golf.
Matsuyama’s path took him to Tohoku Fukushi University in Sendai, where he honed the skills he used to win the 2010 Asia-Pacific amateur title and earn a spot at the 2011 Masters.
In his first trip to Augusta National, Matsuyama won the Silver Cup as low amateur and shared 27th.
He placed 54th at the 2012 Masters, becoming the first amateur to make consecutive Masters cuts since Manny Zerman in 1991-92.
In 2014, Matsuyama won the Jack Nicklaus-hosted Memorial Tournament, the first US PGA win by a Japanese golfer in six years.
With his victory at Augusta National, Matsuyama has six career US PGA triumphs, matching the total achieved by all other Japanese players on the US tour.
But leading into the Masters he hadn’t won on the US tour in his past 87 starts and had begun working with coach Hidenori Mezawa.
“The last three years, there have been different probably reasons why I haven’t been able to win,” he said.
“I have a coach with me now from Japan. It has been a great help, a great benefit. Things that I was feeling in my swing, I could talk to him about that, and he always gives me good feedback. He has a good eye.
“It’s like having a mirror for my swing. We worked hard, and hopefully now it’s all starting to come together.”
Three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo of England said Matsuyama should be chosen to light the Tokyo Olympic cauldron next July at the Games opening ceremonies after the historic victory.
“It would be quite an honour,” said Matsuyama. “But I’m not sure about my schedule. If the schedules worked out and I’m in Japan when that happens and they ask me, what an honour that would be.”
Matsuyama is certain to be in Japan as a member of Japan’s Olympic golf team. The men’s event opens July 29.
“I’m really looking forward to the Olympic Games in Tokyo,” he said. “If I’m on the team, and maybe it looks like I will be, I’ll do my best to represent my country, and hopefully I’ll play well.”
For 14 holes of the final round, Matsuyama seemed in control. His lead stretched from four to five, then six shots. A bogey on the 15th raised eyebrows but proved a minor scare that soon evaporated and a bogey-par-bogey finish was enough to secure the green jacket by a stroke.