AUGUSTA, Ga. – The idea was to create a golf hero, not necessarily a Masters Champion.
Hideki Matsuyama is currently both.
“I am deeply grateful to the members of Augusta National,” Matsuyama said the night before becoming Japan’s first Masters Champion. “I wouldn’t be here without them today.”
The seed was planted in February 2009, with Tiger Woods becoming the major champion for the fourth consecutive year, with players on all but one continent where golf is played in the top 15 of the world rankings. The exception was Asia.
Billy Pain, then chairman of Augusta National, flew to Hong Kong with then-R & A chief Peter Dawson to announce a new tournament for amateurs across the region, Asia Pacific Amateurs.
They wanted to make golf more attractive to the next generation, using the strong Masters brand and the deep legacy of the British Open.
“It quickly became clear that the place we could most influence was across Asia. We identify good golfers and create heroes that are emulated by other children. I wondered if I could do it. I’m attracted to the game. “
Matsuyama played the second edition of Asia Pacific Amateurs in 2010 at the Kasumigaseki Country Club, about an hour from Tokyo, the course of this year’s Olympics. He won with five shots.
In the field that year was also Satoshi Kodaira, who won the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head seven years later. The other three players of the week eventually won the PGA Tour card — South Korea’s Meen-whee Kim and KHLee, and China’s Xinjun Zhang.
Another Asian Pacific amateur player in 2010 was Thailand’s 14-year-old Jazz Jane Watananand. He played in the penultimate group in the 2019 PGA Championship and was 38th in the world last year before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down golf.
Matsuyama first appeared in the Butler cabin as a low amateur at the Masters debut 10 years ago. He then once again won one victory in the Asia-Pacific region. Last year, Masters runner-up Australia’s Cameron Smith was fourth in Thailand.
“When I played and cut as an amateur in my first Masters Tournament, I felt I could fight on the world stage for the first time,” Matsuyama said in a 2015 email interview. “At Augusta National, I decided that golf would be my lifelong career.”
That was the starting point for inspiration for Japan and perhaps other Asian countries, even if Matsuyama wasn’t a golf hero. And now he is the Masters Champion.
“Hopefully I’ll be a pioneer of this, followed by many other Japanese,” Matsuyama said on his second Sunday visit to Butler Cabin as Masters Champion. “Hopefully I’m happy to be able to open the lock, and more people will follow me.”
The inspiration began before he slipped his arm into the green jacket.
Following him is Takumi Kanaya, who lists his favorite players as Woods and Matsuyama. He has already paved the way for Matsuyama. Both went on to Tohoku Fukushi University. Both won the Japan Golf Tour as amateurs. And both won Asia Pacific Amateurs.
Matsuyama made the first call after Kanaya played 64-65 at the Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore over the weekend and won the Asia Pacific region. He was a mentor. After winning the Taiheiyo Masters in 2019, Kanaya said, “Hideki told me to win a professional tournament. I’m very happy to report him great news.”
Long before the launch of Asia Pacific Amateurs, Augusta National had shown a great deal of interest in Asia, some of which appealed to Asian television viewers.
The Masters occasionally offer special invitations to international players who do not have the opportunity to qualify as PGA Tour members. These have been used by all Asian (Japan, China, Thailand, India) players for 12 of the last 20 years, with the exception of Australia’s Greg Norman in 2002.
“These experts were mostly heroes,” Payne said in a 2009 interview. “We want to establish more grassroots programs so that children can be excited to see their programs.”
Since then, Augusta National has worked with R & A and the USGA to create Latin American amateurs. Notice the past champion Joaquín Niemann.
And the club launched Augusta National Women’s Amateur. This is already one of the elite events for women in the amateur world. This year’s winner was 17-year-old Tsubasa Kajitani.
Matsuyama was already a proven product.
He won the money title of the Japan Golf Tour as a newcomer. He came directly to the PGA Tour, won his first memorial and told tournament host Jack Nicklaus: Next 10 to 15 years. “
One of the traditions of the Masters Champion’s victory in the hours following is to meet and toast with Augusta National Members. Pain was in tears, according to the people in the room where Matsuyama greeted him in a green jacket on Sunday night.