Reigning Masters Champion Matsuyama looking to Make More History
Hideki Matsuyama is seeing the Ocean Course for the first time, not just as another competitor in the field but as the reigning Masters Champion.
Five weeks ago, Matsuyama made history as the first male from Japan to win at Augusta National Golf Club. The 29-year-old can build on that history at the Ocean Course by becoming the first Japanese born player and only second Asian-born champion to win the PGA Championship.
A victory like that, to capture the first two legs of the Career Grand Slam in a single season would be something worthy of a raucous celebration, which the 29-year-old didn’t exactly get to do upon winning the Masters Tournament. At least not right away.
Immediately when Matsuyama returned home to Japan, he began a two week quarantine due to the coronavirus pandemic. For the first week he sat alone in a hotel room with his golf clubs. He contemplated picking them up, but opted for a break. The second week, he was reunited with his family for the completion of his quarantine.
“It was too bad,” Matsuyama said through his longtime interpreter, Bob Turner. “I wish we could have celebrated right from the start, but in the end we were able to spend some time together and celebrate together.”
After slipping on the green jacket on April 11, he took it home to Japan. He’s worn it twice since his victory; once for a Zoom press conference and the second time when he met Yoshihide Suga, the Prime Minister of Japan, who recognized Matsuyama with an award for his victory in Augusta.
“When I do wear it, it brings back great memories of winning at Augusta, and it feels great,” Matsuyama said Tuesday. “There are a lot of benefits, and I'm grateful for the attention I'm receiving from the fans. They call out my name and give me applause, and it reminds me of the Masters win.”
While the newly minted major champion was eager to reunite with his family he wasn’t so eager to do so with his golf clubs. He took a break from golf during his time at home in Japan, only picking up a club upon returning to Florida to tune up ahead of the AT&T Byron Nelson where he finished T39.
“Still trying to find my game, but hopefully this will be a good week for me,” said Matsuyama about his chances at the PGA Championship.
During his first two days around the Ocean Course, the major champion quickly learned there are places to hit and not hit the ball. But with the wind Matsuyama says that’s easier said than done and it has made his preparation in determining yardages more difficult when having to account for the conditions.
“When the wind blows, you have to take into consideration the best place to miss and just do your very best,” Matsuyama said.
Matsuyama didn’t play in the PGA Championship the last time it was staged at the Ocean Course. He was still just an amateur, who didn’t turn professional until the following year. In August 2012, the same month the PGA Championship was being played on the Ocean Course, Matsuyama climbed to No. 1 in the World Amateur Rankings.
Nine years later, Matsuyama is preparing to make his ninth appearance at the PGA Championship. Back-to-back in 2016 and 2017, Matsuyama finished in the top 5 at Baltusrol and Quail Hollow Golf Clubs. He could make it a back-to-back of a different kind with a win this week by capturing the first two majors of the season which hasn’t been done since 2015, and never by a player from Japan.
That would be well-worth waiting out a two-week quarantine to celebrate.