TOKYO — Hideki Matsuyama has by no means been a fan of the highlight. Even as he rose to grow to be Japan’s most profitable male golfer, he did his finest to keep away from the eye lavished on the each transfer of different Japanese athletes who’ve shined on the worldwide stage.
But along with his win on Sunday on the Masters in Augusta, Ga., the glare will now be inescapable. His victory, the primary by a Japanese man in one in every of golf’s main championships, is the success of a long-held ambition for the nation, and it ensures that he can be feted as a nationwide hero, with the adoration and scrutiny that follows.
Japan is a nation of avid golfers, and the sport’s standing as the game of selection for the Western enterprise and political elite has given it a particular resonance. Success in sports activities has lengthy been a essential gauge of the nation’s international standing, with the United States and Europe usually the usual by which Japan measures itself.
“We have always dreamed of winning the Masters,” stated Andy Yamanaka, secretary-general of the Japan Golf Association. “It’s a very moving moment for all of us. I think a lot of people cried when he finished.”
Those tears mirror, in half, an island nation that sees itself as smaller and fewer highly effective than different main nations, regardless that it’s the world’s third-largest financial system. That means athletes who signify it globally are sometimes burdened with expectations and pressures that transcend the sector of play.
The nation’s information media has adopted the exploits of its athletes overseas with an depth that some have discovered unnerving. When the baseball star Ichiro Suzuki joined the Seattle Mariners, Japanese information organizations arrange bureaus in the town devoted solely to overlaying him. Television stations right here broadcast seemingly obscure main league video games simply in case a Japanese participant seems. Even modest scoring performances by a Japanese N.B.A. participant can set off headlines.
Golf isn’t any exception. Even throughout low-stakes naments, a gaggle of Japanese reporters usually path Matsuyama, 29, a diploma of consideration that the media-shy golfer appears to have discovered overwhelming.
At Augusta, the stress — a minimum of from the information media — was blessedly low. Covid-19 restrictions had saved attendance by journalists to a minimal, and Japan’s press turned out in small numbers. After ending Saturday’s third spherical with a four-stroke lead, Matsuyama admitted to reporters that “with fewer media, it’s been a lot less stressful for me.”
His victory was a main breakthrough for a nation that has the world’s second-largest variety of golf gamers and programs. The sport is a ubiquitous presence all through the nation, with the tall inexperienced nets of driving ranges marking the skyline of nearly each suburb. In 2019, the P.G.A. added its first official nament in Japan.
In the century for the reason that sport was launched to Japan by international retailers, the nation has produced a variety of top-flight gamers, like Masashi Ozaki and Isao Aoki. But till now, solely two had received main naments, each ladies: Hisako Higuchi on the 1977 L.P.G.A. Championship and Hinako Shibuno on the 2019 Women’s British Open.
Earlier this month, one other Japanese lady, Tsubasa Kajitani, received the second ever novice ladies’s competitors at Augusta National.
Matsuyama’s Masters victory was the crowning achievement of a journey that started on the age of four in his hometown, Matsuyama — no relation — on Japan’s southern island of Shikoku. His father, an novice golfer who now runs a follow vary, launched him to the sport.
He excelled on the sport as a teenager, and by 2011, he was the highest-placed novice on the Masters. By 2017, he had received six PGA occasions and was ranked No. 2 in the world, the very best ever for a Japanese male golfer.
In current years, nevertheless, he appeared to have hit a hunch, haunted by an uneven quick sport and a tendency to buckle below stress, squandering commanding leads on the again 9’s placing greens.
Through all of it, Matsuyama has led a personal existence targeted on golf, whereas different athletes have racked up media appearances and company endorsements. He has earned reward for a work ethic that has typically led him to cap off a main nament look with hours of labor on his swing.
He appears to don’t have any hobbies or any curiosity in buying them. In 2017, he shocked the information media when he introduced that his spouse had given start to the couple’s first little one. Few even knew that he was married. No one had ever requested, he defined.
When Donald J. Trump — a devotee of the sport who was keen on conducting presidential enterprise on the hyperlinks — visited Japan in 2017, the prime minister on the time, Shinzo Abe, recruited Matsuyama for some golf diplomacy. The threesome didn’t preserve rating, and Matsuyama — true to his nature — had little to say concerning the expertise.
With his victory at Augusta, the expectations on Matsuyama will enhance dramatically. Media consideration is more likely to attain a fever pitch in the approaching weeks, and endorsement presents will flood in.
Although golf has dipped in reputation in Japan in current years, sports activities analysts are already speculating that Matsuyama’s win may assist gasoline a resurgence in the sport, which has had renewed curiosity as a pandemic-friendly sport that makes it simple to keep up a wholesome social distance. The Tokyo Olympics this summer time may even focus consideration on the sport.
Munehiko Harada, president of Osaka University of Sport and Health Sciences and an professional on sports activities advertising and marketing, stated he hoped that Matsuyama would use his victory to interact in extra golf diplomacy, and that it might ameliorate the anti-Asian rhetoric and violence which have flared throughout the pandemic.
“It would be great if the victory of Mr. Matsuyama would ease negative feelings toward Asians in the United States and create a kind of a momentum to respect each other,” he stated, including that he hoped President Biden would invite the golfer to the White House earlier than a scheduled assembly with the Japanese prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, this week.
In remarks to the information media, Suga praised Matsuyama’s efficiency, saying it “gave courage to and deeply moved people throughout Japan.”
The stress is already on for Matsuyama to notch one other victory for the nation.
“I don’t know his next goal, maybe win another major or achieve a grand slam, but for the Japan Golf Association, getting a gold medal at the Olympics would be wonderful news,” Yamanaka, the affiliation’s secretary-general, stated.
News stories have speculated that Matsuyama can be drafted to gentle the Olympic caldron on the Games’ opening ceremony in July.
Asked concerning the chance at a information convention following his victory, Matsuyama demurred. Before he may decide to something, he stated, he must test his schedule.
Hisako Ueno contributed reporting.
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