AUGUSTA, Ga. – Hideki Matsuyama stood on the 18th green of Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday night and won the Masters tournament. There had been no leap to heaven, no cathartic, solemn ascent into the arms of his caddy.
Just a hat tip and a couple of hugs – low-key, instant recognition of a landmark achievement for Matsuyama, the first Asian-born golfer to claim a green jacket, and for golf in Japan.
“When the last putt started, I wasn’t really thinking of anything,” he said, adding that he was happy for his caddy Shota Hayafuji because it was his first win.
“And then it started to sink in,” said Matsuyama, “the joy of being a Masters champion.”
It was characteristic of Matsuyama, the man who took advantage of a rain delay on Saturday to play games on his cell phone in his car, the golfer who has been unsettling opponents for years and seemingly eager to avoid the headlights.
“He doesn’t talk a lot and is really solid,” said Justin Thomas after his round, but before Matsuyama’s triumph.
“I think he’s a pretty intense character, although we don’t really see that,” said Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters winner who has known Matsuyama for years. “I mean, and obsessed with his game.”
“He played like a winner should play,” said Xander Schauffele, who was with him for the finals on Sunday. “He was like a robot.”
Heighing six feet and weighing nearly 200 pounds, Matsuyama was made a lion in Japan, where he learned to golf from his father long before he rose to number two in the world, even before Augusta National won him $ 2,070,000. He played in the Masters for the first time in 2011 when he finished 27th and was crowned low amateur. In the third round, he shot a 68, a trip down the course that he said was important in building the strength he would need outside of the amateur ranks.
“It gave me confidence that I could play here,” he said. “I could play professional golf as a career.”
He took part in the PGA Tour in 2013 and won a few tournaments before a 2017 eruption when he topped the rankings in three events and finished second in the United States Open.
That year, his love of privacy became apparent: he announced that he had married months earlier and that he and his wife had a child.
“Nobody really asked me if I was married or, you know, so I didn’t have to answer that question,” he said at a tournament news conference at the time. “But I felt like after the PGA would be a good time because our baby is being born and I thought this would be a good time to let everyone know.”
The shyness remains. When asked over the weekend how he felt about the coronavirus pandemic that kept more journalists off the Augusta National grounds, he replied, “I’m glad the media is covering it here, but it’s not my favorite thing to do, either stand and stand answer questions. With less media it was a lot less stressful for me and I enjoyed this week. “
But in the years leading up to a full rise into the golf elite, particularly in Japan, Matsuyama was a promising young player in search of leadership, Scott recalled.
“I found out then that he was genuinely interested in learning all he could,” said Scott, recalling his interactions with a younger Matsuyama during the 2013 Presidents Cup, the first of four Matsuyama would participate in.
“Only someone with a desire to do well looks like this,” Scott later said. “He wasn’t afraid to ask the questions, and I think it shows. As shy as some people may be, the desire to do well overshadows the language barrier or being shy or something. “
However, by Sunday he had gotten into some kind of slump, despite leading the Players Championship in 2020 when the rest of the tournament was canceled as the coronavirus took hold in the US.
This year, Matsuyama said, he had a coach from Japan with him to help him improve his game.
“He was a great help, a great advantage,” said Matsuyama on Saturday. “I could talk to him about things that I felt in my swing.” He added: “He always gives me good feedback. He has a good eye. It’s like I have a mirror for my swing and it’s been a huge help to me. We have worked hard and hopefully everything is starting to come together now. “
It was like that on Sunday evening in Augusta.