Hideki Matsuyama’s historic triumph in becoming the first Japanese winner at the Masters Tournament will spark immediate gains for Asian golf.
Korea’s Byeong Hun An will be the first to attest to the fact.
When Y.E. Yang delivered Asia’s maiden major title in the men’s competition following a memorable victory at the 2009 PGA Championship, An was amongst the throng of Asian kids who were instantly inspired.
Two weeks after watching Yang defeat the great Tiger Woods in a head-to-head final round duel at Hazeltine National, An won the prestigious U.S. Amateur Championship at Southern Hills to become the youngest champion in its history at age 17.
A regular now on the PGA TOUR, the Korean expects to see a steep rise in Japanese kids and aspiring golfers from across Asia making a beeline to the U.S. and emulating Matsuyama. Over the years, a sprinkling of Japanese golfers have made their way onto the PGA TOUR, with the likes of Isao Aoki, Shigeki Maruyama, Ryuji Imada and Satoshi Kodaira having won at least once at the game’s highest level.
“You’ve seen Y.E. Yang win the PGA in 2009 and since then, we’ve had 10 Korean-born players out here on the PGA TOUR. We have two Japanese players now and I’m sure we’ll see more and more soon as Hideki’s win will propel that. It’s not only great for Japanese golf, it’s great for Asian golf too,” said An, who is competing in this week’s RBC Heritage.
An has gotten to know Matsuyama better over the years, especially when they were International teammates at the 2019 Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne. Watching Matsuyama grind out a one-stroke victory at Augusta National was special.
“It’s freaking unbelievable. He’s the first Asian to do it at the Masters and I was watching on TV. He was my teammate in the Presidents Cup and it’s great to see someone from the Internationals win the Masters. The golf he played was amazing,” said An, who is chasing a first TOUR win.
Satoshi Kodaira is the second Japanese golfer currently competing on the PGA TOUR and he reckons his countryman’s major breakthrough will be a boon for the game at home. And then, there is also the Olympic Games which Tokyo will host in July and Matsuyama will be the obvious main attraction in the men’s competition.
“(Hideki) winning the Masters is an amazing and historic achievement that he did on behalf of Japan. It’s inspirational and definitely provides added motivation to the Japanese players competing in Japan and to those of us, myself included, playing in America to go out and try and win,” said Kodaira.
“It will only have a positive impact for the golf industry in Japan. Whether they are juniors already playing golf or the ones who have never touched a club in their life, kids across Japan will see that Hideki just won the Masters and will think to themselves that if Hideki can win, then I can win too. There are a few of us, including myself, that see this win and it makes us believe we can go out and win the Masters in the near future. My hope would be that those same feelings will carry over to the kids in Japan.”
C.T. Pan of Chinese Taipei saw first-hand how good Matsuyama truly was when they partnered for two matches in the Presidents Cup two years ago. They won both their Four-ball matches against Webb Simpson and Patrick Reed 1-up and 5 & 3. Pan marveled at how the 29-year-old Matsuyama, now a six-time PGA TOUR winner, handles the pressure and expectations of a golf-crazy nation.
“I am so happy for him. He was my teammate and we became good friends. I think he carries a lot of expectations of Japanese fans. Japan is a country where many people love golf and I believe they were expecting their own Masters winner all the time. He has a great attitude in his practice and in competition,” said Pan.
India’s Anirban Lahiri hopes golf in his native country will be inspired by Matsuyama’s Masters heroics. “We are all really happy and proud of him. Anyone who knows him and I’m fortunate enough to know him a little bit, he’s just a fantastic guy. He doesn’t say much and he’s soft spoken. He’s got a big heart and truly loves the game and playing his best all the time. I know how much emotion he probably felt and still feels. It’s probably still sinking in for him,” said Lahiri.
“Hideki does a lot of amazing things for golf in Asia. The Olympics is in Japan and the country will be boasting their own Masters champion heading into the Olympics … how cool is that? It’s fantastic and every way you look at it, it’s going to be great for the development of golf in Asia. He’s already done a lot and in my opinion, he’s the most accomplished of the Japanese players globally and this is kind of the cherry on top and kind of makes him the undisputed person in that category.”