Skillful Matsuyama makes history with Masters victory at Augusta

It can be said that his efforts to improve his skills by competing with rivals on difficult courses overseas have come to fruition. The achievement of a long-cherished dream in Japanese golf must be applauded and the joy must be shared.

Hideki Matsuyama won the Masters Tournament, a major men’s golf tournament. He is the first Japanese man to win a major. In an interview after his victory, Matsuyama reflected on the tough battle, saying, “All I could think about was doing my best.”

On the third day, he was alone at the top with a four-shot lead over second place. But he struggled on the last day, hitting his second shot into the water at a crucial moment in the final stages as the pressure mounted. Many people must have been moved by the fact that he was able to endure the breathtaking tension and grab the victory.

The majors are the most prestigious golf tournaments in the world. The Masters, in particular, is a stage where the world’s best golfers gather, and the venue, Augusta National Golf Club, is known as a great course with many difficult holes to conquer.

Last year, due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, the tournament was held in November without spectators for the first time in its history. The sight of Matsuyama competing in Augusta this time was a great inspiration not only to the spectators who were able to attend the event but also for Japanese society amid pandemic hardships.

The first time Matsuyama competed in the Masters was in April 2011, when he was a sophomore at Tohoku Fukushi University. The Great East Japan Earthquake struck just before the event. Matsuyama said he was unsure about participating until the very last moment, but he competed against the best players in the world, wearing a shirt with the Hinomaru national flag on it.

After turning pro in 2013, Matsuyama set up a fund to support the disaster-hit areas, setting aside a certain amount of money based on his performances. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the disaster.

The reconstruction of the disaster-hit areas still has a long way to go. Many of the victims must have been energized by the performance of Matsuyama, who is in the last year of his 20s.

In the majors, Hisako Higuchi won the U.S. Women’s PGA Championship in 1977, and Hinako Shibuno won the Women’s British Open in 2019. However, Japan’s male golfers have been unable to get past this thick wall.

Matsuyama has broken through this barrier. From early on, he trained his body with an eye on PGA tours and honed his highly-regarded iron shots. In recent years, he’s struggled with poor form, but with his solid technique backed up by plenty of practice, he was able to win the title.

This victory proves that Japanese men can also win majors. In the women’s field, the younger generation is making great strides. Japan is looking forward to Matsuyama’s further success as well as the emergence of the next generation.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 13, 2021.