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Matsuyama's Mastery to Elevate Asia's Game


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Hideki Matsuyama's historic triumph in becoming the first Japanese winner at the Masters, looks set to also become a major gain for Asian golf.

 

South Korean An Byeong-hun certainly attests to that theory. When Yang Young-eun delivered Asia's maiden men's major title at the 2009 PGA Championship, An was among the multitude 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 US Amateur Championship at Southern Hills to become the youngest champion in its history at age 17.

 

A regular now on the PGA Tour, An expects to see a steep rise in Japanese kids and aspiring golfers from across Asia making a beeline to the US 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 YE 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 am sure we will see more and more soon as Hideki's win will propel that. It's not only great for Japanese golf, but also for Asian golf too," said An, who is competing in the RBC Heritage.

 

An has got to know Matsuyama better over the years, especially when they were International teammates at the 2019 Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne. So, watching Matsuyama grind out a one-stroke victory at Augusta was "freaking unbelievable".

 

"He's the first Asian to do it at the Masters and I was watching on TV," added An.

 

"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."

 

Future Talent on the Way

 

A new wave of Japanese talent, led by 22-year-old Takumi Kanaya, is fast ascending the world rankings, and is tipped to follow in Matsuyama's footsteps. Kanaya has already cut a path like Matsuyama. Both went to Tohoku Fukushi University, both won on the Japan Golf Tour as amateurs, and both won the Asia-Pacific Amateur.

 

Kodaira is the second Japanese golfer currently competing on the PGA Tour, and he reckons his countryman's breakthrough will be a boon for the game at home. And then there is also this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo, where Matsuyama will now be the obvious main attraction.

 

"Hideki winning the Masters is an amazing and historic achievement that he did on behalf of Japan," said Kodaira. "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.

 

"It will only have a positive impact on 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 soon. My hope would be that those same feelings will carry over to the kids in Japan."

 

CT Pan of Chinese Taipei witnessed first-hand how good Matsuyama is 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. Pan marvels at how the 29-year-old Matsuyama, now a six-time PGA Tour winner, handles the pressure and expectations of golf-crazy Japan.

 

"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 himand I'm fortunate enough to know him a little bitsays he's just a fantastic guy," said Lahiri.

 

"He doesn't say much and he's soft spoken. He has got a big heart and genuinely loves the game and playing his best all the time. I know how much emotion he probably felt and still feels. It is probably still sinking in for him.

 

"Hideki does a lot of amazing things for golf in Asia. The Olympics are in Japan and the country will be boasting its own Masters champion heading into the Olympics ... how cool is that?"

 

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