Japan’s Prime Minister leads tributes for Matsuyama

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has led the tributes to new Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, the first Japanese male golfer to capture a major.

Matsuyama brought the golf-mad nation to a halt early Monday morning local time in posting a final round 73 to win by a stroke at Augusta National.

Hideki Matsuyama Matsuyama celebrates his first major win (Credit: PGA Tour)

There soon unfolded highly emotional scenes as Matsuyama embraced his caddy, his coach and support team before a teary-eyed 85th Masters champion made his way to the scorer’s hut.

It is the first time in 455 majors that a Japan-born golfer has won a major and only the second Asian-born player to succeed at the games highest leve after Y.E. Yang held Tiger Woods at bay to win the 2009 PGA Championship.

“It was really wonderful,” said Prime Minister Suga. “As the coronavirus drags on, his achievement moved our hearts and gave us courage.”

Five-time Masters winning Tiger Woods tweeted: “Making Japan proud Hideki. Congratulations on such a huge accomplishment for you and your country. This historical Masters win will impact the entire golf world”.

Matsuyama won Tiger’s Hero World Challenge in 2016 and competed against him at the Presidents Cup in 2013 and 2019.

It’s only some four months until Japan hosts the rescheduled Olympic Games and already there are calls for Matsuyama to be chosen to light the flame ahead of the staging of the XXXII Olympiad.

Matsuyama headed into the final round four shots clear of the field but after a first hole bogey, and with Will Zalatoris birdieing his opening two holes, Matsuyama’s lead was down to just one stroke.

However, the 29-year-old was never headed and despite bogeys at 15 and 16, and then a three-putt bogey at the last, he won by a shot with a 10-under par total.

Matsuyama also became seventh player in Masters history, and joins the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia, to win both the Low Amateur award and a green jacket.

The most-capped Masters champion of them all also posted his congratulations.

“I want to send my heartfelt congratulations to Hideki Matsuyama for his Masters Tournament victory, and for being the first Japanese male golfer to win a major championship. I’m not only very happy and pleased for Hideki, but also the whole golfing world of Japan,” tweeted Nicklaus.

One of Japan’s most famous golfers, Masashi “Jumbo” Ozaki, who tied for eighth in the Masters in 1973, said he hoped more Japanese male golfers would be inspired by Matsuyama.

“This is a great achievement for the Japanese golf world,” he said in comments on Japanese media.

“And it came about because of Mr. Matsuyama’s own ability to take up challenges, his courage and all the effort that went into that.”

Legendary Isao Aoki, who has closely followed Matsuyama’s career with Japan TV, recalled how Matsuyama won the low amateur title in the 2011 Masters just weeks after the earthquake, tsunami and the meltdown of three nuclear reactors devastated the northeastern Fukushima area of Japan.

Also in tears was Matsuyama’s caddy Shota Hayafuji who had remained on the final green to souvenir the 18th hole flag and as he did, he returned the flagstick to the hole, removed his hat and turned to the 18th fairway and bowed after the historic win.

Japan can now boast three major champions with Chako Higuchi winning the 1977 LPGA Championship and Hinako Shibuno capturing the 2019 Women’s British Open on her majors debut.