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Ready or Not, Hideki Matsuyama Is Now a National Hero in Japan

  • April 12, 2021

In the century since the game was introduced to Japan by foreign merchants, the country has produced a number of top-flight players, like Masashi Ozaki and Isao Aoki. But until now, only two had won major tournaments, both women: Hisako Higuchi at the 1977 L.P.G.A. Championship and Hinako Shibuno at the 2019 Women’s British Open.

Earlier this month, another Japanese woman, Tsubasa Kajitani, won the second ever amateur women’s competition at Augusta National.

Matsuyama’s Masters victory was the crowning achievement of a journey that began at the age of 4 in his hometown, Matsuyama — no relation — on Japan’s southern island of Shikoku. His father, an amateur golfer who now runs a practice range, introduced him to the game.

He excelled at the sport as a teenager, and by 2011, he was the highest-placed amateur at the Masters. By 2017, he had won six P.G.A. tour events and was ranked No. 2 in the world, the highest ever for a Japanese male golfer.

In recent years, however, he seemed to have hit a slump, haunted by an uneven short game and a tendency to buckle under pressure, squandering commanding leads on the back nine’s putting greens.

Through it all, Matsuyama has led a private existence focused on golf, while other athletes have racked up media appearances and corporate endorsements. He has earned praise for a work ethic that has sometimes led him to cap off a major tournament appearance with hours of work on his swing.

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