Sports fans love to support the underdog, and golfers are no exception. At this year’s Masters Tournament, when a low-ranking player rose to the top honors, he became an instant hero here in America and Japan.
Ranked 25th, and without a PGA win since 2017, bettors considered Hideki Matsuyama a long shot before the first tee shot. But with a decisive swing freeing him from the 18th hole bunker, plus two excellent putts on the green, the 29-year-old became the first Japanese to don the coveted green winner’s jacket at Augusta.
While his path to a championship was never guaranteed, being a role model for the younger players who came after him has been part of Matsuyama’s long-term game plan from the beginning.
In 2009, during the heyday of Tiger Woods, the Asia Pacific Amateur Tournament was established to showcase talented emerging players from a region that was underrepresented on the world golf stage.
“It became clear pretty quickly that the place we could have the most impact would be across Asia,” said Billy Payne, who helped develop the tournament. AP. “We thought that if we could identify good golfers and create heroes that would be emulated by other children, in the process they would be drawn to the game.”
The following year, the event was held at Kasumigaseki Country Club about an hour outside of Tokyo. Matsuyama took the competition with a five-shot lead. His victory there was followed by his first amateur appearance at the Masters.
A lot has happened in the decade since Matsuyama’s debut at the Masters, but after this week’s victory, he hopes his example will encourage others in Japan and beyond to follow in his footsteps across the legendary threshold of the Augusta’s butler cabin.
“It is exciting to think that there are so many young people in Japan watching today,” he told AP. “Hopefully, in five, 10 years, when they are a little older, some of them will be competing on the world stage.”
Five-time Masters winner Tiger Woods, who knows more than a little about how to inspire young golfers, was effusive in his praise for Matsuyama. “Making Japan proud, Hideki,” Woods tweeted. “Congratulations on such a great achievement for you and your country. This historic victory at the Masters will impact the entire world of golf. “
While it is true that Matsuyama’s respectable final score of 1 over, 73 will not earn him a place in the record books, a little bird tells us that his deep-seated desire to “play forward” will continue to score a hole-in-one. every time.
(LOOK ESPN’s video of his win below).
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