Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga along with five-time Masters winning Tiger Woods have led the tributes to new Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama – the first ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ male golfer to capture a major.
Matsuyama brought the golf mad nation to a halt early Monday morning local time in posting a final round 73 to win by a stroke at Augusta National. There soon unfolded highly emotional scenes as Matsuyama embraced his caddie, his coach and support team before a teary-eyed 85th Masters champion made his way to the scorer’s hut.
It is the first time in 455 majors that a Japan-born golfer has won a major and only the second Asian-born player to succeed at the game’s highest level after Y.E. Yang held Tiger Woods at bay to win the 2009 PGA Championship.
“It was really wonderful,” said Prime Minister Suga. “As the coronavirus drags on, his achievement moves our hearts and gives us courage.”
Woods tweeted: “Making Japan proud Hideki. Congratulations on such a huge accomplishment for you and your country. This historical Masters win will impact the entire golf world.”
It’s only some four months until Japan hosts the rescheduled Olympic Games and already there are calls already for Matsuyama to be chosen to light the flame ahead of the staging of the XXXII Olympiad.
Matsuyama headed into the final round four shots clear of the field but after a first hole bogey, and with Will Zalatoris birdieing his opening two holes, the 29-year old Matsuyama’s lead was down to just one stroke. However, Matsuyama was never headed and despite bogeys at 15 and 16, and then a three-putt bogey at the last, he won by a shot with a 10-under par total.
Matsuyama also became the sixth player in Masters history, joining the likes of Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia, to win both the Low Amateur award and also be fitted with an Augusta National members jacket. “It’s thrilling to think that there are a lot of youngsters in Japan watching today,” said Matsuyama. “In five, ten years, when they get a little older, hopefully some of them will be competing on the world stage.
“I hope it will affect golf in Japan in a good way. Not only those who are golfers already, but hopefully the youngsters who are playing golf or thinking about playing golf, I hope they will see this victory and think it’s cool and try to follow in my footsteps.
“Up until now, we haven’t had a major champion in Japan, and maybe a lot of golfers or younger golfers, too, thought, ‘Well, maybe that’s an impossibility’. But with me doing it, hopefully that will set an example for them that it is possible and that, if they set their mind to it, they can do it, too.”
Other tributes have come from –
Masashi “Jumbo” Ozaki, who tied for eighth in the Masters in 1973, said he hoped more Japanese male golfers would be inspired by Matsuyama:
“This is a great achievement for the Japanese golf world,” he said in comments on Japanese media. “And it came about because of Mr. Matsuyama’s own ability to take up challenges, his courage and all the effort that went into that.”
Legendary Isao Aoki, who has closely followed Matsuyama’s career with Japan TV, recalled how Matsuyama won the low amateur title in the 2011 Masters just weeks after the earthquake, tsunami and the meltdown of three nuclear reactors devastated the northeastern Fukushima area of Japan.
Also in tears was Matsuyama’s caddie Shota Hayafuji who had remained on the final green to souvenir the 18th hole flag and as he did, he returned the flagstick to the hole, removed his hat and turned to the 18th fairway to bow after the historic win. Japan can now boast three major champions after the women pair of Chako Higuchi won the 1977 LPGA Championship and Hinako Shibuno captured the 2019 Women’s British Open on her major debut.
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