On Sunday, April 12, 2021, Hideki Matsuyama became the first Japanese golfer to don the green jacket at Augusta National Golf Club after holding off challengers to claim victory at the Masters Tournament, one of the four major championships in professional golf.

Having not won a PGA tournament since 2017, Matsuyama came into the Masters ranked 25th in the world and was a 60-1 longshot to win the whole kit and caboodle. Instead, after an hour-long rain delay on Saturday, Matsuyama came out firing, ending the day scoring 7-under 65 to take a commanding 4-shot lead.

On Sunday, Matsuyama did just enough, scoring a 75 to finish with a total score of 278 (-10) to edge out runner up Will Zalatoris.

While within Japan the 29-year-old Matsuyama is one of the top sports all-stars, he is still relatively unknown outside his home country. That has come to an end. Learn a little bit more about the new contender some are calling the Tiger Woods of Japan.

1. Hideki Matsuyama is from Japan’s southern island of Shikoku

Matsuyama was born and raised in the city of Matsuyama, the capital of Ehime Prefecture on Japan’s southern island of Shikoku. The former castle town is known for some of Japan’s oldest onsen (hot springs), the most famous being Dogo Onsen, which partially inspired Yubaba’s bathhouse in the Ghibli movie Spirited Away. Ehime Prefecture is also home to more than 15 scenic golf courses, and it was here that Hideki Matsuyama’s father first introduced him to golf at age of 4. Identified as a golf prodigy, in the eighth grade Matsuyama transferred to Meitoku Gijuku Junior & Senior High School in Shikoku’s Kochi Prefecture, a private school known for its strong sports programs, including golf.

2. Matsuyama’s breakthrough year of 2011 was also a traumatic one

Matsuyama attended Tohoku Fukushi University in Sendai, the alma mater of two fellow PGA golfers, Hiroshi Iwata and Yusaku Miyazato. In 2010, Matsuyama won the inaugural Asian Amateur Championship (now called the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship), and in 2011 at age 19 became the first Asian amateur invited to the Masters. While he was training in Australia, Tohoku was struck by the 3.11 earthquake and tsunami. He returned to Sendai to find his dormitory destroyed. He was reportedly torn about whether it was appropriate to compete in the Masters when his adopted hometown was in a devastating state of emergency, but he was encouraged to go to Augusta. Inspired by the people back in Tohoku, Matsuyama was the lowest scoring amateur, and won the Silver Cup. “It was the people of Japan who gave me the strength to take the plunge overseas,” Matsuyama told reporters.

3. A rising star, Matsuyama turned professional in 2013

After achieving the rank as the number amateur golfer in the world in 2012, Matsuyama turned pro in 2013 and started notching titles in Japan, becoming the country’s top money-earner before year’s end. In 2014 he qualified to join the PGA tour and finished in the top 25 in six PGA tour events, including his first win at the 2014 Memorial Tournament. In 2016 Matsuyama won the Japan Open for the first time and became the first Asian golfer to claim a World Golf Championship. His world ranking rose to sixth, and after finishing second at the 2017 U.S. Open, Matsuyama was ranked second in the world, the highest ever for a Japanese male golfer.

4. With success came struggles for Matsuyama

Poised to take the golf world by storm, instead Matsuyama’s game began to stumble. Known for his strong short game, Matsuyama focused on improving his drives in order to even the international playing field. However, under increased pressure to succeed, Matsuyama’s putting game faltered. After taking the lead at the 2017 PGA Tour Championship at Quail Hollow, Matsuyama bogeyed five of the final nine holes to finish in fifth. After the loss, he reportedly cried after an interview with a Japanese reporter. After this letdown, some golf writers were questioning whether Matsuyama would be able to hold his commanding lead in the final day of the 2021 Masters. He proved all doubters wrong.

5. Matsuyama is a private person with laser focus on golf

Covid-19 protocols meant less press coverage from Japanese media at this year’s Masters, to which Matsuyama says helped him maintain focus. “I’m glad the media are here covering it, but it’s not my favorite thing to do, to stand and answer questions,” he told reporters after Saturday’s brilliant performance. “And so with fewer media, it’s been a lot less stressful for me, and I’ve enjoyed this week.” During Saturday’s hour-long break, Matsuyama reportedly sat in his car and played games on his phone while other golfers palled around in the clubhouse. Famously, the media didn’t know Matsuyama had married until eight months after his nuptials. When asked about his hobbies on his days off, Matsuyama says, “I like to play golf.” While certainly private, that doesn’t mean Matsuyama doesn’t have a playful side. Just watch this video he shot with golf uber-stars Tiger Woods, Rory Mcllroy and Jason Day:


Feature image courtesy of PGA Tour media (Photo by Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)