AUGUSTA, Ga. – Hideki Matsuyama’s march to victory and into the history books in his homeland of Japan definitely had its stops and starts Sunday evening at the Masters.
But when it was over, when Matsuyama’s final putt fell as the shadows grew long to ensure a surprisingly narrow one-shot win, the 29-year-old became much more than just another Masters champion. His victory at 10-under par made him not only the tournament’s first Asian-born champion but also the first Japanese man to win a major golf title.
As a young man, he first came to the Masters as an amateur in 2011 and again in 2012, invited by Augusta National because he won the Asia-Pacific Amateur, making the cut both times and showing the early promise that foreshadowed a week such as this. He came to Augusta that first year hurting for his nation; a month earlier, his home of Sendai had been ravaged by a terrible earthquake and a series of tsunamis that resulted in more than 15,000 deaths.
He said he wasn’t sure if he even should have been in Augusta, but when he finished tied for 27th, a remarkable achievement for an amateur playing in his first Masters, he said, “Hopefully, my play was able to bring some encouragement to those that are in need right now.”
Flash forward ten years. Once again, he was thinking of his golf-loving nation, which was awakening to the news of his victory Monday morning.
“It’s thrilling to think that there are a lot of youngsters in Japan watching today,” he said through an interpreter. “Hopefully in five, 10 years, when they get a little older, some of them will be competing on the world stage. … Hopefully I’ll be a pioneer, and many other Japanese will follow. I’m glad to be able to open the floodgates.”
For a few hours Sunday, it appeared Matsuyama was going to surge to an easy victory – if there ever is such a thing at the Masters – continuing a mastery of the course that began Saturday afternoon. After waiting out a rain delay by playing video games on his cell phone in his car in the parking lot, he returned to shoot six-under par over his final eight holes of the third round to take a four-shot lead into the final round.