May 07

Matsuyama Tied at Players

Matsuyama New Type of Newcomer

Newcomer Maintaining Low Average on Larger Tour

It used to be that we could look at a newcomer to the western tours askance – very askance. So what if he won twenty tournaments on the African, Eastern European or Asian tours? That’s just not the same level of competition that he will face when he takes on the PGA or European Tours. Perhaps there is some truth to that, but lately, one might wonder if it’s changing, at least if one looks at the larger statistics of Hideki Matsuyama, the new phenomenon out of Japan.

hideki We are more accustomed to the female golfers coming out of Japan, and although we’ve seen various men come to play in years gone by, this one is a little bit more special. Perhaps he’s just that good, or perhaps the Asian tours are gaining in quality as the game grows in the East. Matsuyama is of a newer generation, and that is usually a step forward for countries just taking to the game. Born in 1992, he was the Asian Amateur Champion by the age of 18. His various wins in Asia gained him an amateur spot in the 2011 Masters, where he became the only amateur to make the cut, and won the Silver Cup for low amateur score. For his countryman, it is of importance that he is the first Japanese golfer to have done so, on all counts.

At the World University Games, Matsuyama won the Gold Medal, a sign that a new tide of young golfers coming out of Japan have upped the ante considerably. Before long, he had won the #1 spot on the World Amateur Rankings, and appeared set for the beginning of a worldwide pro career. But then, there’s that thing about taking on the greatest of the West and Europe when you’ve just come out of a smaller pond back home. So, how big is the fish, and is the pond still small?
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Such a question may not be answered easily or soon, but Matsuyama is certainly answering some questions about himself, and not necessarily through his leading performance at the Players Championship alone. Go ahead and look at all his wins with the typical “Yeah yeah, sure sure” that we use for newcomers who haven’t won our big tournaments yet. Matsuyama’s statistics of consistency, however, should give us pause. His top 10 finish in the U.S. Open got him into the top 50 pros in the world, and after he qualified for the PGA Tour in 2014, he put in six top twenty-fives in his first seven tournaments. But even that is not the most compelling figure. That comes down to a stretch of four days this year at Augusta, Georgia. The brand new Japanese golfer came in 5th, from out of the blue. That’s even more telling than his PGA win at Memorial in 1014, or his victory at Dunlop Phoenix. It’s that war of attrition that is called The Masters. It’s one of those places where you learn to become one.
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The Players Championship is huge, and is thought of by some as the fifth major. The purse is enormous, ten million to be exact. Matsuyama is tied at 5 under with a few others such as Kevin Na, who he beat out in a playoff in one of his recent wins. He’s at the top in the Players because of his putting, not his ability to find a green, missing six or seven of them, but recovering brilliantly. Try to include him with the group of young stars, and he won’t have it, insisting that he isn’t on that level, but assuring us that he will work hard to reach it in the near future.

Hideki Matsuyama has already shown consistent excellence, important data for a long-term prognosis. So, has Japan sent us a future great one, or are they ready to turn a new level of golf on the world?

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