Home » Celebrating 10 years of Hideki Matsuyama magic on golf’s PGA Tour
Featured Global News Golf Golf News News Sports

Celebrating 10 years of Hideki Matsuyama magic on golf’s PGA Tour

Brian Harman, the reigning Open champion, tells a funny tale of how he and fellow PGA Tour winner Matt Every made a poor error in judging a young Asian golfer more than a decade ago. In contrast, Jack Nicklaus, holder of a record 18 major victories, knew the golf world was in for a special treat with the emergence of a rising star.

Paired together in the opening two rounds of the 2012 Sony Open in Hawaii alongside one of several Japanese sponsor exemptions that week, Harman’s first impression was similar to Every’s thoughts – “Don’t think this kid’s got it”.

Harman said: “So we’re playing with this kid, and there are photographers all over the place. He dribbled a couple off the tee boxes and Matt and I made the comment, ‘don’t think this kid’s got it’. He’s like nervous beyond all belief. Missed the cut. Didn’t play good at all… Hideki Matsuyama.”

Yes, the very same Hideki Matsuyama, who is now Asia’s winningest golfer on the PGA Tour with nine career victories – four more than Harman and Every combined – and a proud owner of a green jacket following a historic triumph at the 2021 Masters. “So Matt and I would joke about that. Yeah, we missed on that one,” Harman laughed.

This week marks Matsuyama’s 10th anniversary of his maiden PGA Tour victory at the Memorial Tournament in 2014, an event hosted by golf legend Nicklaus. The octogenarian remembers vividly Matsuyama’s glorious march to victory at Muirfield Village.

“When he won, I said, he’s going to win a lot of golf tournaments,” said Nicklaus, 84.

During his prime, Nicklaus, winner of 73 tour titles, battled against Japanese top golfers including Isao Aoki, Jumbo Ozaki and Naomichi “Joe” Ozaki but rates Matsuyama as the “best of the bunch.” He marvels especially at how Matsuyama has established himself in the United States, despite challenges with language, along with food and cultural differences.

He added: “He’s done really well, he’s won the Masters, won several other tournaments. He’s going to win more majors. He’s just too good a player.”

From the breakthrough a decade ago, Matsuyama has since cemented his stature as Asia’s most decorated golfer. A stunning victory at the Tiger Woods-hosted Genesis Invitational in February, where he closed with a 62 at Riviera to overcome a six-shot deficit and win by three, saw him break a tie with Korea’s K.J. Choi at eight wins.

As of this week, the 32-year-old has also enjoyed seven runner-up finishes and a staggering 40 top-5 finishes from 254 official starts. He has over US$50 million (S$67.4 million) in career earnings, ranking him 12th in the all-time earnings list on tour.

Australia’s Adam Scott has since become a life-long admirer of Matsuyama’s success and influence for the game in Japan and across Asia, after being tasked with taking Matsuyama under his wing at the 2013 Presidents Cup where they partnered in four matches.

Scott, 43 said: “He’s dealt with a lot of pressure really well. I think his achievements are phenomenal. His consistency is probably a little overlooked. He’s a needle mover, and (Japan) should be so proud of him and what he’s been doing.”

Isao Aoki, the first golfer from Japan to win on the tour in 1983, said Matsuyama’s heroics will inspire a new era for the country, which has seen the emergence of Ryo Hisatsune, Keita Nakajima, Taiga Semikawa and Takumi Kanaya.

Despite the adoration and fame, Matsuyama prefers to stay out of the spotlight, saying: “I just want to work hard and play well, rather than think about what I had done…

“I want to work hard to win more majors and it would be great if we could compete against each other (Japanese golfers) for a championship someday. I am just fortunate my hard work has paid off, so there are no secrets.”

Source: The Straits Times