Hideki Matsuyama has entered the history books after becoming the first Japanese man to win a Major golf championship thanks to a memorable triumph at the Masters Tournament.
In doing so, the 29-year-old completed his impressive rise from promising amateur to Major hero in his homeland after holding his nerve for a one-shot victory at Augusta National.
Matsuyama is the first Asia-Pacific Amateur Champion to claim a Major, while the former R&A Foundation Scholar also sealed a notable double after Japanese teenager Tsubasa Kajitani won the Augusta National Women's Amateur in a play-off earlier this month.
Japan can now boast three Major winners after Hinako Shibuno won the AIG Women’s Open at Woburn in 2019 and Hisako Higuchi the LPGA Championship in 1977, with Matsuyama’s victory set to have further impact on golf in a country of 126 million people and hosts the Tokyo Olympics this summer.
“It’s just going to be huge for the country,” said Andrew Coltart, the Sky Sports commentator in the aftermath of Matsuyama’s win. “They are very passionate and very emotional. It’s going to mean a tremendous amount for them and hopefully bring a lot more people into the game.”
Matsuyama tapped in on the 18th to finish on 10 under par at the Masters after an up-and-down closing round of one-over 73, edging out debutant Will Zalatoris by a stroke with fellow American pair Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele sharing third on seven under.
Matsuyama looked to be cruising to victory at six strokes clear with seven holes to play, yet saw his advantage cut to only two shots after finding water at the par-5 15th. However, his nearest challenger Schauffele then made a triple bogey at the par-3 16th after also costly landing in water.
“I was thinking about them (friends and family) all the way around,” said Matsuyama. “I am really happy I played well for them. Hopefully I will be a pioneer and many other Japanese players will follow and I am glad to open the floodgates.”
For man a who was already revered in Japan before his Augusta success, Matsuyama’s story is one of sustained progression. Now a six-time PGA Tour winner, his career has continued to flourish since he first arrived on the scene as a talented amateur.
Matsuyama studied at Tohoku Fukishi University in Sendai and in 2011 led the golf team to a gold medal at the World University Games, where he also won the individual gold medal. Matsuyama received support from The R&A for two years throughout his university career under The R&A’s Foundation Scholar programme.
Currently, The R&A supports golf programmes at 17 universities and in the 2019/2020 academic year awarded 152 individual Foundation scholarships. Past scholars also include former Champion Golfers of the Year, Francesco Molinari and Shane Lowry, and ex-AIG Women’s Open Champion Catriona Matthew.
Going back to 2008, Matsuyama represented Japan in the Eisenhower Trophy for the first time. The men’s golf event at the World Amateur Team Championships was held in Australia, where Scotland claimed victory. Matsuyama competed for a second time in 2012.
Matsuyama achieved the feat of winning two consecutive Asia-Pacific Amateur Championships in 2010 and 2011. He recorded a score of 15 under par for his first victory in Japan, before successfully defending his title the following year in Singapore, signing for 18 under par.
In 2011, Matsuyama became the first Japanese amateur golfer to compete in the Masters Tournament, earning the chance to play through his 2010 Asia-Pacific Amateur victory.
Matsuyama was the only amateur to make the cut and was presented with the Silver Cup as the leading amateur – before claiming the Green Jacket 10 years later.
After reaching number one on the World Amateur Golf Ranking® in 2012, Matsuyama turned professional the following year. Having already won his first professional tournament on the Japanese Tour while still an amateur, Matsuyama brought his total professional wins to three after adding a further two victories in his homeland within the first few months of his new career.
Following a top-ten finish at the US Open in June 2013, Matsuyama entered the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking® and, aged 21, tied for sixth place at The Open at Muirfield alongside Zach Johnson and Tiger Woods, whom he would then face at the 2013 Presidents Cup.
Matsuyama beat Kevin Na in a play-off to record his first victory on the PGA Tour at the 2014 Memorial Tournament and moved to a career best world ranking of 13. In February 2016, Matsuyama won his second with another play-off victory, this time over Rickie Fowler, at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
After he claimed The Japan Open in October, his first title at his national open and seventh victory in Japan, Matsuyama became the first Asian to win a World Golf Championship event with a stunning display at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
Dreams of a Nation
Matsuyama capped 2016 by claiming the Tiger Woods-hosted Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, before a second win at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in 2017 and a further WGC-Bridgestone Invitational success.
Now ranked 14th in the world, Matsuyama has fulfilled the dreams of a nation with his Masters triumph at Augusta after his countryman Isao Aoki came so close to Major glory in 1980 at the US Open, finishing runner-up to Jack Nicklaus at Baltusrol.