News : Masters victory by Hideki Matsuyama: The quiet in the green jacket – sport
Butler Cabin was no unknown territory for Hideki Matsuyama. A few hundred meters from the 18th green in Augusta is the white house, where a small group always comes to a ceremony after the tournament: The Chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club, Fred Ridley, is then called the Masters champion and the best Tournament amateur players welcome, CBS chief commentator Jim Nantz asks questions, and last year’s winner presents the green jacket to his successor.
In 2011, when Matsuyama was the first Japanese ever to travel to Augusta, he was already taking part in this ceremony and was awarded the Silver Cup for best amateur. On Sunday afternoon, ten years later, he returned to Butler Cabin. The chairman and Nantz were there again, and Dustin Johnson, last year’s winner, was also there. This time Matsuyama was the Masters champion.
To explain how extraordinary it was that this time Hideki Matsuyama, 29, from Matsuyama, Ehime Province, won the most prestigious golf tournament, it takes a quick look at history. For decades, major golf tournaments were won by Scots, English and, above all, Americans. Golf was at home in the rugged coastal areas of the United Kingdom and the upper class of the United States. It took pioneers like the South African Gary Player, the Spaniard Severiano Ballesteros and also a young Swabian named Bernhard Langer to break this dominance in the 70s and 80s of the last century.
Even the Japanese press knows comparatively little about the impenetrable Matsuyama
Matsuyama now fits into this line of pioneers, he is the first Japanese, even the first Asian-born player to win a major championship, which also seemed a bit overwhelming for those involved in Butler Cabin. Usually Masters winners reminisce about the moments of their great triumph with moving words, letting their emotions run free, appreciating the greatness of the tournament and the long road to this point.
Matsuyama, on the other hand, responded to Chairman Ridley’s question how it felt to be the first Japanese major winner with a barely audible Japanese sentence, which his assistant and companion Bob Turner translated: “I’m really happy.” So easy, so happy.
Turner has been traveling from tournament to tournament with Matsuyama for years and translates the mostly short answers from the Japanese into equally short one-liners. Even the Japanese press, who are traveling after the PGA tour in droves, know comparatively little about the shy, impenetrable Matsuyama, who once casually told a press conference that he had become a father – but nobody knew he had a partner at all. All that was known about Matsuyama was what was obvious: that he was a brilliant golfer, with a distinctive 0.2 second pause that he paused in the backswing before hitting the ball hard.
Matsuyama taught golf a lesson on Sunday in his very own way: that great victories trigger great emotions, but that these can also be shown with a great deal of dignity and reserve. Matsuyama seemed almost irritated when his opponent Xander Schauffele gave him a short, warm hug. He said he was most happy for his caddy, Shota Hayafuji, who hadn’t won a tournament by his side.
In Japan, the best golf clubs in the world are hand-forged where samurai swords used to be made
Matsuyama did not shed tears, even though he had every reason to. Although his story at this tournament ten years ago began not only with the fact that he was the best amateur, but also with the fact that he almost did not compete at the time because his Japanese home province had been destroyed by a tsunami a few months earlier. He could also have shown himself personally happy that after nine years, which he had consistently spent in the top 30 of the world rankings and after seven top 10 placements in major tournaments, he was finally able to celebrate a great victory.
And Matsuyama could have cried out of relief, because on Sunday he not only played for himself but for all of Japan. A country that is so enthusiastic about the sport that the best golf clubs in the world are hand-forged where samurai swords were once made. Withstanding this pressure was Matsuyama’s greatest task on Sunday. He had done it brilliantly – most of the time.
Only once did it look briefly in the final round as if Matsuyama would break in, as if he could still gamble away the victory he believed to be certain: on holes 15 and 16 he played surprising bogeys and was briefly only two strokes ahead in the lead. The competition, however, remained too flawed to put him under pressure: Schauffele, with the Japanese in the final group, ended his temporary catch-up with a blow into the water on hole 16.
When Hideki Matsuyama briefly raised his hands at the award ceremony, a little like Muhammad Ali once did, a new day began in Japan. Matsuyama was asked what he wanted to say to those who woke up. He responded with a sentence that players like Player or Ballesteros had said decades earlier: “It’s overwhelming to think that a lot of young players in Japan can see this today. Hopefully they will follow in my footsteps at some point.”