A new golf era has dawned in the Land of the Rising Sun thanks to Hideki Matsuyama’s victory on Sunday at the Masters, the first major triumph by a Japanese man.
The shy golfer had cut a solitary figure as he walked alone to the clubhouse to sign his card, even if all of Japan was with him in spirit.
After exchanging hugs beside the 18th green with his small entourage, a stoic Matsuyama was left to himself to sign his scorecard and prepare for a new life that will never be the same after becoming the first Masters champion from Asia.
But even before the winning putt dropped, the notion was already being raised by three-times Masters champion Nick Faldo that Matsuyama could be chosen to light the cauldron at the Olympics opening ceremony in Tokyo on July 23.
Matsuyama is finalising his plans but is likely to be in the country at that time as a member of Japan’s golf team six days before the Olympic men’s competition starts on July 29.
“If the schedule works out and I am in Japan when that happens and they ask me, what an honour that would be,” Matsuyama said via his interpreter, before adding with typical Japanese humility his thoughts about the Olympic golf.
“If I am 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,” he said.
But if Matsuyama has played his way into the hearts of Japanese golf fans by becoming the first man from his nation to win a major championship, he is unlikely to offer up much celebrity fodder.
A very private person, to an extent that he makes Tiger Woods looks like an open book, Matsuyama rarely speaks of his family. The Japanese media, who follow his every step, did not even know for several months that he had married back in 2017.
It was not until Matsuyama announced that wife Mae had given birth to a girl that they found out about his nuptials.
The 29-year-old prefers to let his clubs do the talking and even in the glow of victory was reluctant to acknowledge that he was the greatest player from his country.
“I can’t say I’m the greatest,” he said. “However,
I’m the first to win a major and if that’s the bar then
I’ve set it.”
The pressure of sleeping on a four-shot lead caused Matsuyama to wake up much earlier than he had hoped on Sunday, and after some first-tee nerves he remained inscrutable until the very end.
It was not until he smoked a drive up the middle at the last hole that the job was almost done, having the luxury of being able to make a bogey and still triumph.
Matsuyama’s breakthrough for Asia is akin to Tiger Woods’ sensational Masters win in 1997 which catapulted him to overnight global stardom.
Woods had become the first black man to win a major in a sport then considered as somewhat of an exclusive male preserve, inspiring millions of people of colour to take up the sport.
There’s little doubt that Matsuyama’s exploits at Augusta National will produce a similar effect.
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