How Hideki Matsuyama Became Japan’s New National Hero

With a spectacular one-stroke victory, Matsuyama became the first Japanese to win a golf major. A Japanese newspaper even printed a 72-hole graphic detailing every stroke the golfer made as Japan traveled to Matsuyama.

But it wasn’t just Matsuyama’s golfing prowess that made him endearing to the Japanese nation.

Matsuyama says he hopes his success at Augusta will help inspire the next generation of Japanese golfers.

Matsuyama leaves the 18th green after winning the Masters.

“It’s exciting to think that there are a lot of young people in Japan watching today. Hopefully in five or ten years when they’re a little older, hopefully some of them will compete on the world stage, “Matsuyama said at his press conference. after his victory in Master.

“But I still have a lot of years left, so they’re going to have to beat me again. But I’m happy for them because I hope they can follow in my footsteps.”

Perhaps also unsurprisingly, since his victory in Georgia, the Japanese golfer has been “inundated” with marketing requests and media opportunities, according to Matsuyama’s agent Bob Turner.

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After almost four years without a win, victory on golf’s biggest stage was the perfect return to form for Matsuyama.

His dazzling display on Day 3 of the Masters stole the show as he took the lead, while on the final day Matsuyama fended off the late charge from Xander Sc Chaudele to claim that famous green jacket.

Andy Yamanaka, who has known Matsuyama since he was a teenager, says he saw a change in golfer behavior in Augusta that he believes could have made the difference between winning and losing.

“This time at the Masters, we saw more smiles on the golf course, which is very unusual for [him]Yamanaka told CNN’s Selina Wang.

“When he plays on the golf courses he doesn’t smile a lot, but this time we saw smiles, and he looked very relaxed.”

Matsuyama chats with his caddy Shota Hayafuji on the second tee during the Masters final round.

And when he hit the winning putt, there were no extravagant celebrations. Matsuyama almost casually took off his hat, shook ScHotele’s hand, and kissed his cart.

That’s when the emotions seemed to kick in, before the golfer left the 18th green to receive the coveted green jacket.

Turning pro eight years ago, Matsuyama’s hard work and dedication to the driving range are qualities that have served him well, leading him to 13 professional victories and second in the world rankings in 2017.

Yamanaka believes it wasn’t until recently that he started adding muscle to his body – helping to add more distance to his game – that gave him another dimension.

“He was a very skinny guy,” Yamanaka explained. “So when he joined our national team, we had a training program. And so he spent a lot of time building up his muscles by doing a few exercises.

“Even after turning pro … he knew that in order to be a better player as a professional golfer he had to be taller. And so besides hitting a lot of golf balls on the course I think he spent a lot of time in training, to build him more muscle. “

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Matsuyama plays a shot from a bunker on the second hole in the Masters final round.

Impact at home

Matsuyama is no stranger to the Masters and Augusta National.

Ten years ago, Matsuyama took home amateur honors at the tournament and the 19-year-old sat next to winner Charl Schwartzel in the butler’s booth at the green jacket ceremony.

However, by this time Matsuyama’s mind was distracted by events at home – the tournament took place about a month after the devastating Tōhoku earthquake in 2011 and the ensuing tsunami hit Japan.

Matsuyama himself was competing in Australia at the time of the earthquake, but when he returned to Tohoku Fukushi University, he found his home destroyed.

Matsuyama with the bottom amateur trophy after the 2011 Masters final.

“Literally thousands of lives have been lost, and there are still a lot of people missing,” Matsuyama said at the post-Masters press conference in 2011. “The infrastructure is still being recovered and many are missing. residents are forced to live in emergency relief locations.

“I’m from the Tohoku region, and having such a difficult situation back home, I’m not sure if I should be playing the Masters even right now. Yet I decided to play.”

He underscored his desire to volunteer upon his return and, through her focus on earthquake relief and her place on the PGA Tour, Matsuyama helped shine a light on the issues in her country and became a more important figure for his compatriots.

Now, Yamanaka is hoping that Matsuyama’s new major winner profile can help broaden the appeal of golf in Japan.

“We have 2,200 golf courses; we are known as the second largest golfing country in the world. After America, next to the United States. We have approximately 7.5 million golfers. Golf is a sport wonderful where any generation can have fun and compete So I think his victory inspired not only golfers but also young people who don’t play golf, come to play golf, come to the game.

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Yasuhiko Abe, who coached golfer Hideki Matsuyama during his years at Tohoku Fukushi University, maintains special editions of newspapers featuring Matsuyama's Masters victory.

“The young people of this generation have so many options, and every sport has to compete with other sports for the younger generation to play that sport, and golf is in the same situation. So we need more and more young people to play our game. “

Mark Broadie, professor at Columbia Business School and author of ‘Every Shot Counts’ – a book that teaches players how to use golf statistics and analysis to transform their game, cites the influence of Se Ri Pak’s victory at the 1998 US Women’s Open on South Korean golf as a possible model of the impact of the Matsuyama Masters victory in Japan.

“[Se Ri Pak’s 1998 US Women’s Open] victory has led to huge growth in golf in South Korea, which now boasts 4 of the top 10 and 39 of the top 100 players in the Rolex World Rankings, ”Broadie told CNN via email.

“I guess Hideki will become an icon and role model in Japan and inspire a generation of young Japanese players (and possibly beyond Japan).”

When Matsuyama won the Masters, emotions got the better of commentators from Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS).

TBS announcer Wataru Ogasawara said: “Matsuyama won the Masters!” before crying and saying: “Finally, finally, Japanese has become the roof of the world!”

Co-commentator Tsuneyuki Nakajima broke down in tears and couldn’t speak after the victory.

And with calls suggesting Matsuyama should light the Olympic cauldron ahead of the delayed Summer Games, the golfer is set for a busy year with three more major tournaments to go as well as the Tokyo 2020 golf tournament.

This event will take place at Kasumigaseki Country Club, where Matsuyama won the Asian Amateur Championship in 2010.

“Matsuyama knows the golf course well and he will obviously represent Japan at the Olympics,” said Yamanaka. So he has a greater chance, a greater advantage, and I hope he or another Japanese player with a gold medal … will be another great story for golf in Japan. “

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