Hideki Matsuyama is Golf’s Quiet Superstar


AUGUSTA, Ga. — Hideki Matsuyama stood on the 18th inexperienced at Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday night, a winner of the Masters Tournament. There had been no skyward leap, no cathartic, celebratory climb into his caddie’s arms.

Just a hat tip and a few hugs — an understated, in-the-moment recognition of a seminal achievement for Matsuyama, the primary Asian-born golfer to assert a inexperienced jacket, and for golf in Japan.

“When the final putt went in, I wasn’t really thinking of anything,” he stated, including that he was blissful for his caddie, Shota Hayafuji, as a result of it was his first win.

“And then, it started sinking in,” Matsuyama stated, “the joy of being a Masters champion.”

It was attribute Matsuyama, the person who used a rain delay on Saturday to play video games on his cellphone in his automotive, the golfer who for years has been unsettling opponents whereas seeming set on avoiding the highlight.

“He doesn’t talk a whole lot, and he’s really solid,” Justin Thomas stated after his spherical however earlier than Matsuyama’s triumph.

“I think he’s quite an intense character, actually, even though we don’t really see that,” stated Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters winner who has identified Matsuyama for years. “I mean, and obsessive about his game.”

“He played like a winner needs to play,” stated Xander Schauffele, who was paired with him for the ultimate spherical on Sunday. “He was like a robot.”

Just underneath six toes and weighing near 200 kilos, Matsuyama had been lionized in Japan, the place he started to be taught golf from his father, lengthy earlier than he rose to No. 2 on the planet, even earlier than his victory at Augusta National, which earned him $2,070,000. He played in the Masters for the first time in 2011, when he tied for 27th and was crowned the low amateur. He shot a 68 in the third round then, a trip through the course that he said was significant to building the fortitude he would need outside the amateur ranks.

“It gave me the confidence that I could play here,” he said. “I could play professional golf as a career.”

He joined the PGA Tour in 2013 and won a few tournaments before a breakout 2017, when he topped the leaderboard at three events and placed second at the United States Open.

It was that year when his penchant for privacy became clear: He announced that he had married months earlier and that he and his wife had had a child.

“No one really asked me if I was married, or, you know, so I didn’t have to answer that question,” he said at a tournament news conference then. “But I felt that after the P.G.A. would be a good time, because our baby is born and I thought that would be a good time to let everyone know.”

The shyness remains. Asked over the weekend how he felt about the coronavirus pandemic having kept more journalists away from the grounds at Augusta National, he replied: “I’m glad the media are here covering it, but it’s not my favorite thing to do, to stand and answer questions. And so with fewer media, it’s been a lot less stressful for me, and I’ve enjoyed this week.”

But in the years before a full ascent into golf’s elite, particularly in Japan, Matsuyama was a promising young player in search of guidance, Scott remembered.

“I found back then he was really interested to learn everything he could,” Scott recalled of his interactions with a younger Matsuyama during the 2013 Presidents Cup, the first of four in which Matsuyama would compete.

“Just someone who’s got a desire to do well is what it looked like,” Scott said later. “He wasn’t afraid to ask the questions, and I think that shows. As timid as some people can be, the desire to do well overshadows the language barrier or being shy or anything like that.”

Until Sunday, however, he had been in something of a slump, even though he was leading the Players Championship in 2020 when the rest of the tournament was canceled as the coronavirus gained a greater foothold in the United States.

This year, Matsuyama said, he had a coach with him from Japan who was helping him to improve his game.

“He’s been a great help, a great benefit,” Matsuyama said on Saturday. “Things that I was feeling in my swing, I could talk to him about that.” He added: “He always gives me good feedback. He has a good eye. It’s like having a mirror for my swing, and it’s been a great help for me. We worked hard, and hopefully now it’s all starting to come together.”

On Sunday evening in Augusta, it did.



Source link Nytimes.com

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