Golf: Officials and players heap praise on Hideki Matsuyama, predict next golf rush in Asia

Hideki Matsuyama became the first Asian male golfer to triumph at Augusta National, capturing his first Major victory and sixth PGA Tour title.
Hideki Matsuyama became the first Asian male golfer to triumph at Augusta National, capturing his first Major victory and sixth PGA Tour title.PHOTO: AFP

AUGUSTA (PGATOUR.COM) - Officials and fellow competitors poured deserved praise and adoration on Japan's history-maker Hideki Matsuyama, whose nail-biting victory at the Masters Tournament on Sunday (April 11) was tipped to spark a new wave of talents emerging from Japan and Asia for decades to come.

The 29-year-old became the first Asian male golfer to triumph at Augusta National, capturing his first Major victory and sixth PGA Tour title in a year when Tokyo will host the rescheduled Olympic Games later in July, where golf is part of the programme.

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said: "On behalf of the PGA Tour, our congratulations to Hideki Matsuyama on becoming the first Japanese-born player to win a major championship with his Masters Tournament victory.

"Already Japan's leader in career PGA Tour wins, Hideki has carried on a rich legacy paved by Isao Aoki, Jumbo Ozaki, Shigeki Maruyama and others. His historic win will inspire so many in his home country and around the world and coincides perfectly with this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo where he will undoubtedly be a central figure."

There are already calls for Japan's golf superstar to be given the honour of lighting the Olympic Games cauldron during the opening ceremony, although the often-reticent Matsuyama responded in typical fashion: "It would be quite an honour. But I'm not sure about my schedule. If the schedules worked out and I am in Japan when that happens and they ask me, what an honour that would be."

As Asia's second male golfer to win a Major after Y.E. Yang's triumph in the 2009 PGA Championship which, together with K.J. Choi's eight Tour wins led to a sharp rise in the number of Korean golfers competing on the PGA Tour, many expect Matsuyama's dream victory to provide a similar springboard for the game in Japan and Asia.

This times nicely with recent reports on the sport gaining some new-found momentum in its growth and increased participation globally.

Tiger Woods, who is recuperating from injuries suffered in a car accident in February, tweeted: "Making Japan proud Hideki. Congratulations on such a huge accomplishment for you and your country. This historical @TheMasters win will impact the entire golf world."

Golf legend Jack Nicklaus, who holds an unprecedented 18 Major victories, has followed Matsuyama's career rise closely after the Japanese talent secured his first PGA Tour victory at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide in 2014, a tournament which he hosts.

"I've been blessed to spend a lot of time in Japan and I know they love the game of golf. They're also very proud people and they're even prouder today! I competed against the great Isao Aoki, and know how revered he was and is. Hideki will also now forever be a hero to his country. I was able to watch every shot & Hideki played beautifully. He kept cool & calm … the day and moment belongs to Hideki Matsuyama! This is a great day for him, for Japan, and for the global game of golf!"

Australian Adam Scott, a former Masters winner, has known Matsuyama since taking the Japanese under his wing when the latter featured in his first Presidents Cup in 2013. He was not surprised to see Matsuyama breakthrough at Augusta National.

"He's a bit like a Tiger Woods to the rest of the world, Hideki in Japan," said Scott. "He's obviously developed a lot. He's continued to win, and he's won at least one World Golf Championships event, I believe, if not two.

"I think he goes through his process very well and seems to have a pretty level head on his shoulders. He's quite an intense character, actually, even though we don't really see that, and obsessive about his game.

"The crowds in Japan are fanatical is the best way I can describe them. I remember I took the Green Jacket over there in '13 when I went, and it was an incredible response I got, so I can only imagine what Hideki will experience."

Annika Sorenstam, a 72-time LPGA Tour winner and now president of the International Golf Federation, also believes kids will start emulating Matsuyama in Japan in her congratulatory tweet to Matsuyama.

Hideki Matsuyama celebrates on the 18th green after winning the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, on April 11, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

"Congratulations to #HidekiMatsuyama, the first Asian-born player to win @TheMasters. With the @NBCOlympics going to Japan later this year, their countryman's win will be sure to inspire young golfers throughout Asia," the Swedish legend wrote on the social media platform.

Korean-American Kevin Na, who lost to Matsuyama in the Memorial play-off all those years ago, expects to see more Japanese golfers streaming to the PGA Tour.

He said: "I know Y.E. Yang won the PGA Championship, the first Asian-born player to win a Major, and then first Asian-born to win the Masters, it's a big deal. It would be huge for Asia."

As a child, Matsuyama idolised Woods and watched the American legend win the 1997 Masters on TV and later dreamed of competing at Augusta National, which he realised after winning the 2010 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship. In nine appearances prior to Sunday, Matsuyama missed only one cut, posted two top-10 and three other top-20 finishes.

"Hopefully I'll be a pioneer in this (winning the Masters) and many other Japanese will follow. I'm glad to be able to open the floodgates hopefully, and many more will follow me," said Matsuyama.