TOKYO — Hideki Matsuyama has by no means been a fan of the highlight. At the same time as he rose to change into Japan’s most profitable male golfer, he did his greatest to keep away from the eye lavished on the each transfer of different Japanese athletes who’ve shined on the worldwide stage.
However together 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 all golf’s main championships, is the achievement of a long-held ambition for the nation, and it ensures that he will probably 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 important gauge of the nation’s world standing, with the USA and Europe usually the usual by which Japan measures itself.
“Now we have all the time dreamed of successful the Masters,” stated Andy Yamanaka, secretary-general of the Japan Golf Affiliation. “It’s a really shifting second for all of us. I believe lots of people cried when he completed.”
These tears replicate, partially, an island nation that sees itself as smaller and fewer highly effective than different main nations, although it’s the world’s third-largest economic system. Which means athletes who signify it globally are sometimes burdened with expectations and pressures that transcend the sphere 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 within the metropolis devoted solely to overlaying him. Tv 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 tournaments, a gaggle of Japanese reporters usually path Matsuyama, 29, a level of consideration that the media-shy golfer appears to have discovered overwhelming.
At Augusta, the stress — not less than 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 rather a lot much less aggravating for me.”
His victory was a serious breakthrough for a rustic 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 match in Japan.
Within the century because the recreation was launched to Japan by overseas retailers, the nation has produced quite a lot of top-flight gamers, like Masashi Ozaki and Isao Aoki. However till now, solely two had received main tournaments, each girls: Hisako Higuchi on the 1977 L.P.G.A. Championship and Hinako Shibuno on the 2019 Ladies’s British Open.
Earlier this month, one other Japanese girl, Tsubasa Kajitani, received the second ever novice girls’s competitors at Augusta Nationwide.
Matsuyama’s Masters victory was the crowning achievement of a journey that started on the age of 4 in his hometown, Matsuyama — no relation — on Japan’s southern island of Shikoku. His father, an novice golfer who now runs a observe vary, launched him to the sport.
He excelled on the sport as an adolescent, 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 on the earth, the best ever for a Japanese male golfer.
Lately, nonetheless, he appeared to have hit a stoop, haunted by an uneven brief recreation and a bent to buckle below stress, squandering commanding leads on the again 9’s placing greens.
By means of 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 piece ethic that has generally led him to cap off a serious match look with hours of labor on his swing.
He appears to haven’t any hobbies or any curiosity in buying them. In 2017, he shocked the information media when he introduced that his spouse had given delivery to the couple’s first youngster. Few even knew that he was married. Nobody 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 hold rating, and Matsuyama — true to his nature — had little to say in regards to the expertise.
Together with his victory at Augusta, the expectations on Matsuyama will enhance dramatically. Media consideration is prone to attain a fever pitch within the coming weeks, and endorsement gives will flood in.
Though golf has dipped in recognition in Japan lately, sports activities analysts are already speculating that Matsuyama’s win might assist gas a resurgence within the recreation, which has had renewed curiosity as a pandemic-friendly sport that makes it simple to take care of a wholesome social distance. The Tokyo Olympics this summer time will even focus consideration on the sport.
Munehiko Harada, president of Osaka College of Sport and Well being Sciences and an professional on sports activities advertising and marketing, stated he hoped that Matsuyama would use his victory to have interaction in additional golf diplomacy, and that it will ameliorate the anti-Asian rhetoric and violence which have flared in the course of the pandemic.
“It will be nice if the victory of Mr. Matsuyama would ease detrimental emotions towards Asians in the USA and create a sort of a momentum to respect one another,” he stated, including that he hoped President Biden would invite the golfer to the White Home 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 braveness to and deeply moved folks all through Japan.”
The stress is already on for Matsuyama to notch one other victory for the nation.
“I don’t know his subsequent objective, perhaps win one other main or obtain a grand slam, however for the Japan Golf Affiliation, getting a gold medal on the Olympics could be fantastic information,” Yamanaka, the affiliation’s secretary-general, stated.
Information experiences have speculated that Matsuyama will probably be drafted to mild the Olympic caldron on the Video games’ opening ceremony in July.
Requested in regards to the chance at a information convention following his victory, Matsuyama demurred. Earlier than he might decide to something, he stated, he must examine his schedule.
Hisako Ueno contributed reporting.