Ready or not, Hideki Matsuyama is now a national hero in Japan

Tokyo – Hideki Matsuyama Never been a fan of headlines. Even when he became Japan’s most successful male golfer, he tried his best to draw attention to every step of other Japanese athletes who shone on the global stage.

But with its victory on Sunday at the Masters in August, Ga, the glow will now become inevitable. His victory, the first by a Japanese man in one of golf’s major competitions, is the fulfillment of a long-held ambition for the country, and guarantees that he will be received as a national hero, following observance and scrutiny Will happen.

Japan is a nation of avid golfers, and the game’s status as a sport of choice for the Western business and political elite has given it a special resonance. Success in sports has long been an important gauge of a country’s global situation, with the United States and Europe often being the standard by which Japan measures itself.

“We always dream of winning the Masters,” Japan Golf Association Secretary General Andy Yamanaka said. ‚ÄúThis is a very moving moment for all of us. I think a lot of people cried when he was finished. “

They reflect tears, in part, as an island nation that sees itself as smaller and less powerful than other major countries, even though it is the world’s third-largest economy. This means that the athletes who represent it globally are often burdened with expectations and pressures that cross the field of sport.

The nation’s news media has followed the adventures of its athletes abroad with such intensity that something unnecessary has been found. When baseball star Ichiro Suzuki joined the Seattle Mariners, Japanese news organizations set up bureaus in the city, dedicated exclusively to covering them. If a Japanese player appears, television stations broadcast major league games here. Even modest scoring performances by a Japanese NBA player can come into the limelight.

Golf is no exception. Even during low-stakes tournaments, a gaggle of Japanese journalists, often overtaking 29-year-old Matsuyama, noted that media-shy golfers have been overshadowed.

In Augusta, the pressure – at least from the news media – was blessed. The Kovid-19 sanctions kept journalists’ presence to a minimum, and Japan’s press turned out in small numbers. After concluding Saturday’s third round with a four-stroke lead, Matsuyama told reporters that “with less media, it’s much less stressful for me.”

His win was a huge success for a country that has the world’s second number of golfers and courses. The game is a ubiquitous presence across the country, with long green nets of driving ranges marking the horizon of almost every suburb. In 2019, the PGA The couple Its first official tournament in Japan.

In the century since the game was introduced in Japan by foreign traders, the country has produced many top-flight players, such as Masashi Ozaki and Iso Aoki. But so far, only two major tournaments were won, both women: Hisako Higuchi at the 1977 LPGA Championship and Hinako Shibuno at the 2019 Women’s British Open.

Earlier this month, another Japanese woman, Tsubasa Kazitani, won the amateur women’s competition for the second time at the Augusta National.

Matsuyama’s Masters victory was a landmark achievement that began at the age of 4 on his hometown Matsuyama – no relation – on Japan’s southern island of Shikoku. His father, an amateur golfer who now runs a practice range, introduced him to the game.

She excelled in sports as a teenager, and by 2011, she was the highest ranked amateur at the Masters. As of 2017, he won six PGA contests and ranked No. 2 in the world, the most for a Japanese male golfer.

In recent years, however, he felt a recession, an uneven short play and a tendency to buckle under pressure, led to commanding squandering on the backside of the Nine Nine greens.

Through all of this, Matsuyama has led a private existence focusing on golf, while other athletes have elevated media appearances and corporate endorsements. He has earned praise for a work ethic that has sometimes led him to turn down a major tournament appearance with hours of work on his swing.

He seems to have no hobby or any interest. In 2017, he surprised the news media when he announced that his wife had given birth to the couple’s first child. Some also knew that he was married. Nobody had ever asked, he explained.

When Donald J. Trump – a devotee of the sport who was fond of conducting the president’s business on the Lynx – visited Japan in 2017, with then-prime minister Shinzo Abe recruiting Matsuyama for some golf diplomacy. The threesome did not keep score, and Matsuyama – true to his nature – had little to say about the experience.

With him Win in augustaExpectations will increase dramatically on Matsuyama. Media attention is likely to reach a fever pitch in the coming weeks, and there will be a flood of endorsement offers.

Although golf has dipped in popularity in recent years in Japan, sports analysts are already speculating that Matsuyama’s victory could help a resurgence in the game, which renewed interest as an epidemic-friendly sport Which makes it easier to maintain a healthy social distance. Tokyo will also focus on the Olympic Games this summer.

Munihiko Harada, president of Osaka University of Sport and Health Sciences and an expert on sports marketing, said he hoped Matsuyama would use his win to engage in more golf diplomacy, and that it would pacify anti-Asian rhetoric and violence. During the epidemic.

He said it would be great if Mr. Matsuyama’s victory would remove negative feelings towards Asians in America and create a kind of momentum to honor each other, adding that he hoped President Biden would give the golfer Will invite you The White House this week ahead of a scheduled meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga.

In a comment to the news media, Suga praised Matsuyama’s performance, saying, “It gave a deep and profound courage to the people of Japan.”

There is already pressure on Matsuyama to secure another victory for the nation.

The association’s general secretary, Yamanaka, said, “I don’t know his next goal, maybe he wins another big win or a great slam, but it would be amazing news for the Japan Golf Association to win a gold medal at the Olympics.” “

News reports have speculated that Matsuyama will be slated to bring the Olympic caledron to light at the opening ceremony of the Games in July.

Asked about the possibility at a news conference after his victory, Matsuyama condemned it. Before he could do anything, he said, he would have to check his schedule.

Hisako Ueno contributed reporting.

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