Five things you may not know about Matsuyama Hideki: The first Japanese man to win a golf major

Matsuyama Hideki's historic victory at the 2021 Masters in Augusta is a game-changing moment in Japanese and Asian golf, here are a few things you probably didn't know about him

By Ken Browne
Picture by Getty Images

Matsuyama Hideki became the first ever Japanese man to win a golf Major when he claimed the Masters in Augusta on Sunday 11 April.

Matsuyama ripped up the history books with every spectacular iron, every calm putt, hitting a final day round of 73 to finish on -10, a single shot ahead of second-placed 24-year-old debutant Will Zalatoris.

Leading overnight after a stunning round of 65 on Saturday, Matsuyama zoned in on Sunday morning after a slightly shaky start, steadied and never broke stride - by the 10th hole he was five shots ahead of Zalatoris.

Hearts jumped to Japanese mouths all over the world when a hot Matsuyama iron bombed into the water on the 15th hole, Xander Schauffele surging to second place just three shots behind him, but the nerveless Matsuyama dealt with it dropping just a single shot.

Later he was asked why he went for the green on 15 and what he was thinking when he stood on the 16th tee with his lead down to only two shots.

"Xander had just made three birdies in a row at 12, 13 and 14," he said, with Bob Turner translating, "I hit the fairway at 15 and with Xander having the momentum and it was a four-stroke lead I felt I needed to birdie 15 as I felt Xander would definitely be birdie-ing or maybe even eagle-ing."

"But it didn't happen so I stood on the 16th with a two-stroke lead and unfortunately for Xander he found the water with his tee shot and I played safe to the right of the green at 16."

A precise and methodical answer that reflected his game on Sunday.

The 29-year-old was relentless all day and when he crushed a monstrous drive straight down the 18th fairway he could hardly suppress a smile.

But winning a Masters is never easy, he'd been flawless with the wedge all weekend but now suddenly his second shot dropped in the sand, another obstacle that he overcame easily, and the rest is history.

Donning the green jacket was a moment: The first Asian-born Masters winner ever.

Asked if he is now the greatest Japanese golfer ever Matsuyama said:

"I can't say I'm the greatest, however, I'm the first to win a major and if that's the bar then, I've said it."

In the early days of this Masters it was the reigning Olympic champion Justin Rose leading the charge, but the quietly brilliant Matsuyama eased into the lead when it mattered most and never let go.

Asked if he realises how much of a hero he is to young kids waking up in Japan to him wearing that jacket he replied:

"It's thrilling to thing that there are a lot of youngsters in Japan watching today, and in five, ten years when they get a little older hopefully some of them will be competing on a world stage, but I still have a lot of years left so they're still going to have to compete against me.

"But I'm happy for them and hopefully they'll be able to follow in my footsteps."

Matsuyama to light the Olympic flame in Tokyo?

Nick Faldo speculated that Matsuyama could be chosen to light the cauldron in July at the Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony and Matsuyama was surprised and honoured at the suggestion:

"It'd be quite an honour, if I am in Japan when that happens and they ask me, what an honour that would be."

And now does he feel pressure to deliver a gold medal this summer at the Tokyo Games?

"I'm really looking forward to the Olympic Games in Tokyo, if I am on the team, and it looks like I will be, I'll do my best to represent my country and hopefully I'll play well." - Matsuyama

Sensational as this win is, you can't say it came out of nowhere with 14 worldwide wins, seven career major top-10s, four Presidents Cup appearances and a No. 2 World Ranking already on Matsuyama's timeline.

He follows the path paved by Higuchi Hisako who won the LPGA Championship in June 1977, making her the first Asian-born player to win a major championship, man or woman.

It took 42 for the next Japanese major.

In August 2019 Hinako Shibuno, etched her name on the Women's British Open trophy, and now Matsuyama has joined this exclusive club in 2021.

Scroll down for five things you may not know about Japan's man of the moment.

1. A private man in public life

While keeping a low profile as a professional golfer is almost impossible, Hideki values discretion and doesn't share much.

His social media is the reserve of a few game shots and his personal life is rarely on show or talked about in interviews.

“He's really, really shy” Golf Today Japan journalist Eiko Oizumi said in 2017, “he doesn’t want to show his private life."

Politeness and protocol mean that Japanese journalists are unwilling to ask about his personal life, and Hideki likes to let his game do the talking.

2. Hideki: Husband, father, golfer

Despite his discretion, the Japanese star does live a normal life, he's married and is also a father.

He revealed at the 2017 Northern Trust in August that he had got married in January of that same year.

So why keep it under wraps so long?

“No one really asked me if I was married," he said, "so I didn’t have to answer that question.” 

“But I felt that after the PGA would be a good time, because our baby is born and I thought that would be a good time to let everyone know.”

Off the links he likes to fish, watch baseball and play table-tennis.

3. Hideki's a winner at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic course

Talented from a young age, his father introduced him to golf when he was four years old, and later moved high schools to have access to better golf facilities.

Born in February 1992 in Matsuyama, Ehime, his favourite player growing up was Tiger Woods and one of his greatest golfing memories is watching Tiger win the 1997 Masters.

24 years later, it was Tiger watching him win it.

Hideki became the world’s number one male amateur in June 2012, holding onto that ranking for one week.

A year later he turned pro, just a couple of months after his 20th birthday.

Matsuyama became the first Japanese amateur to qualify for the Masters with victory at the Asia-Amateur Championship in 2010 and, excitingly for Olympic fans, the victory came at the 2020 Olympic Games host course:

The Kasumigaseki Country Club.

Even better news is that he won the event again in 2011, becoming the only player to date to win it twice in a row. While the course has had a pre-Olympic revamp, he will still take fond memories and positive energy into play this summer.

4. Matsuyama and solidarity

Away from the fairway Hideki gets involved in charity and social work too, most recently he and fellow Japanese golfer Ishikawa Ryo raised funds to donate to a support group helping people during the coronavirus pandemic.

The players listed golf gear and merchandise on Yahoo Auctions in summer 2020 and also shot YouTube videos of the two in practice and conversation.

The pair said that showcasing their decided the best way they could contribute to the battle against the pandemic was to showcase their activities to fans.

“We would like to extend our sympathies to those who have suffered or died from the new coronavirus,” the two said in a statement on Ishikawa’s website.

“We are also grateful to the health care workers in Japan and overseas who are giving it their all every day. We have always been encouraged by our fans — we’ll take strength from that and do our best.”

Matsuyama, ranked 22nd in the world, is the top Japanese player on the PGA Tour. Ishikawa won three tournaments on Japan’s domestic tour last year.

5. The Matsuyama signature swing

That pause at the top of his backswing has become famous and you'll find dozens of slo-mo analysis videos online which will likely multiply after this weekend's feat.

But the Augusta champ says it isn't something he does intentionally but the result of trying to be “as slow as I can at the top.”

His game will be analysed and dismantled and put back together for some time to come but for Matsuyama, and the millions of Japanese fans watching around the world, it's time to celebrate, they'll hope there's more to come Tokyo 2020 this summer.