With anti-Asian violence on the rise in America, Hideki Matsuyama displayed class and dignity while making golf history
Going through the list of Masters winners, there are a lot of American flags. It wasn’t until 1961, 27 years after the first Masters (then called the Augusta National Invitational Tournament) that a non-American won the tournament for the first time – Gary Player from South Africa. The player won the tournament three times between 1961 and 1978, and Seve Ballesteros of Spain won in 1980, representing the second non-American to win. As the game continued to globalize more and more, we saw winners popping up from other European countries in the 1980s, including Scotland, England, Wales and Germany. This Masters Tournament, however, was quite different.
The “tradition like no other” was given a facelift yesterday with the victory of Hideki Matsuyama, who became not only the first Japanese golfer to win the Masters (or any major championship, for that matter), but the first golfer of any Asian country will do this.
It was a long, slow climb to the top of the American Golf Mountain for Japanese golf. Isao Aoki was tied for the lead with Jack Nicklaus after 54 holes at the 1980 US Open. Tommy Nakajima was third at the 1988 PGA, a decade after scoring a disastrous 13 on the 13th hole at Augusta. Masahiro Kuramoto finished T-4 at the British Open of 1982. Shigeki Maruyama had three career top-10s in the majors, his best performance being a T-4 at the US Open 2004. And Ryo Ishikawa was T-2 after 36 holes at the 2010 US Open at the age of 19. But none reached the top by winning a major.
Enter Hideki Matsuyama, a 29-year-old player who was able to play at Augusta National ten years ago at the Masters 2011, where he was the least successful amateur. A decade later, he jumped in round three with a scorching 65, shooting six under par over the last eight holes. Heading into Sunday’s final round, Matsuyama held a four-stroke lead, chased by Justin Rose, Xander Shauffele, Marc Leishman and Will Zalatoris.
He never let go of this lead. Matsuyama’s stoic poise throughout the day, despite a potential disaster on the 15th, led him to a one-stroke victory after tapping for bogey on the 18th. As the ball fell into the hole, he there was no demonstration cry. No throwing clubs, or jumping, or falling to his knees and crying – Matsuyama won his way of playing, confident and calm. He picked up the ball, put it in his back pocket, flipped his hat over and smiled.
“When the final putt came in I wasn’t really thinking about anything,” Matsuyama said through a performer after his Masters win. “And then it started to sink – the joy of being a Masters champion. I can’t imagine what it’s going to be, but what a pleasure and what an honor it will be for me to bring the green jacket back to Japan. “
And back in Japan, he will take it back. The coveted green jacket, tailored and awarded to the winner of the Masters each year, which can remain in the possession of the winner until the next Masters, was with Matsuyama on his flight after his victory. As he waited for his commercial flight out of Atlanta this morning, casually dressed in sneakers and a t-shirt, peering through his phone, the green jacket sat next to him, draped over an airport seat.
At a time when racially-motivated violence against Asians and Asian Americans is on the rise, a golfer from the land of the rising sun, speaking through an interpreter, brings home the largest The golfing success of the world on American soil is a triumph of far more importance than mere sport. It is a triumph for his country, for diversity, for acceptance and for the next generation of international golfers.
“So far we haven’t had a major champion in Japan, maybe a lot of young golfers thought it was an impossibility,” he said. “I hope this shows that it is possible and if they think about it, they can do it too.”