The coronavirus continues to be worst in Tokyo. Olympic preparations are in chaos, locals are concerned about the prospect of an influx of foreign visitors, planned qualification events are being canceled due to doubts and accusations.
And yet, in the midst of this, a local hero has emerged. Hideki Matsuyama is the first Japanese master in large tournament golf. He will be the figurehead of these Olympic Games, just like Naomi Osaka, a four-time winner of the Grand Slam tournament and the first Asian player to be recognized as the world’s number one tennis player. 1 is their flagship. It was far from an easy journey.
Towards the end there were some terribly nervous moments when a match play competition developed that went beyond Matsuyama and his play partner Xander Schauffele. The panicked delivery of the Tokyo Broadcasting Service commentators when Matsuyama found water on the 15th summed up how full these last holes got, regardless of the guide.
Hideki Matsuyama is the first Japanese winner in major tournament golf after his Masters fame
Her husband had four shots at Schauffele, but he was inexplicably brave and went screaming through the green. Yelps, screams, angry discussions ensued. His advantage was cut in half. What was he playing? Masters can do this to a man. So it can be to be a nation’s torchbearer.
Earlier this week, Matsuyama spoke of the pandemic, which contained a strangely hidden benefit. As the No. 1 golfer in his country, he is used to being followed by a curious Japanese press pack. However, because travel was restricted, the Masters had been a relatively low-key event here.
It must not be unrelated that he woke up with four shots on Sunday morning. On Saturday evening, he could not even be found to meet the assembled media. He was sitting in his car happily playing games on his cell phone.
Meanwhile, floodlights on the driving range lit Bryson DeChambeau’s recent run-dry attempt to tame Augusta National. He walked around in 75 and left no one wiser.
There were some nervous moments towards the end, but Matsuyama is a local hero now
Japan’s golf media isn’t exactly the legend of the Fleet Street rottweiler either. When Matsuyama announced in 2017 that he and his wife Mei had just welcomed a daughter, Kanna, it caused some level of dismay at home as he was not known to be married.
“Nobody really asked me, so I didn’t have to answer that question,” he said. Even so, as a leading protagonist in a sport that has been a national obsession, he has to answer his fair share of questions. Balancing the national preference for politeness with a desire for honesty, he explained what was different about that week.
“I’m not sure how to answer that well, but it’s still difficult to stand in front of the media,” he said. “It is not my favorite thing to stand and answer questions. With less media, it was a lot less stressful for me. That’s why I enjoyed this week. ‘
That sense of fun seemed to have evaporated on the 16th tee as he blinked angrily, preparing to play the safest, safest strokes just to hold onto what he had.
A nation’s hopes are high, and Matsuyama wears them every time he tees off in a major
A select group of people will know Matsuyama’s burden. Cathy Freeman and Ian Thorpe, who carry Australia’s hopes for the 2000 Olympic Games; Andy Murray at Wimbledon every year until the gold trophy was finally lifted; the “dream team” of professional basketball players who represented the United States at the 1992 Games.
A nation’s hopes weigh heavily. Matsuyama wears them every time he tees off in a major and will do it again when he goes to the Olympic competition that will be held on the east course of Kasumigaseki Country Club this summer. Especially now, as Master of the Year 2021, all eyes will be on him.
Golf is still an elite sport in Japan, with membership of the best private clubs costing hundreds of thousands of entry fees, but half of the continent’s golf courses and the many huge networks in the center of cities mark the urban driving ranges that are so close how many citizens can play the game on a regular basis. It was also an early adopter of the Masters.
In 1973, when the tournament aired internationally, it was picked up by TBS, where it has remained ever since. Golf numbers are declining – in the younger generation, it’s too tied to a sport your father would play, a perception left over from the golf and business boom of the 1980s – but it’s still 6.5 percent of the time Population golfers.
Japan also has seven percent of the world’s golf facilities, a concentration second only to the United States.
The sense of fun seemed to have vanished for Matsuyama as he tried to hold onto what he had
What the country hasn’t had, however, is a male champion golfer. Hisako Higuchi won the LPGA Championship in 1977, Hinako Shibuno won the Women’s British Open in 2019, and last Saturday Tsubasa Kajitani won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
Matsuyama politely cited them this week as his inspiration. So far, Isao Aoki’s second place after Jack Nicklaus at the 1980 US Open is the best Japanese result in a major tournament. And this is the baggage that Matsuyama lugs around under the gaze of a hungry, if reduced press contingent, to remind him of the expectations at home.
As if the pressure of the fourth day at the Masters wasn’t enough. Matsuyama’s first tee shot, a conservative three-wood for safety reasons, made his way to the right and went almost over the borders. He missed the gap between the trees with his second and sat down just before the green. He took five, a bogey.
Elsewhere on the pitch, rookie Will Zalatoris won. After starting the day by four points, Matsuyama walked a single shot ahead of Zalatoris’ nine from the back of the first hole. It was just a starter, a taste of the horrors to come.
Old minds say the Masters don’t start on the Back Nine until Sunday, and that has worked brilliantly
Old minds say that the masters only start on the back nine on Sunday. This is how it worked.
In the final four holes, Matsuyama lost control under pressure from Schauffle’s challenge, then Schauffle lost control under pressure to maintain it.
In the end, this green jacket in the subtle light yellow and white T-shirt was pushed onto the man’s shoulders. Matsuyama from Matsuyama City. It’s almost like they named it after him in anticipation of future greatness.
And of course that means answering more questions and even less time to sit quietly and play computer games. But they are a philosophical people, the Japanese.
You can not have everything. And he comes home with quite a bit.
Rookie Will Zalatoris won, closing Matsuyama’s advantage on a single shot