Prominent Japanese, from prime minister to golf icons, salute Masters winner for giving nation hope when it was most needed
Hideki Matsuyama already was a huge celebrity in his golf-crazed homeland of Japan, with his own traveling media entourage. Now that he’s got a green jacket, the hype has hit another level.
Think Beyonce or Lady Gaga. For those of you of a certain age, try Beatlemania or Elvis.
“It was really wonderful,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said early Monday in Tokyo, which is 13 hours ahead of Augusta, Ga., after Matsuyama holed out on Augusta National’s 18th green at just past 7 p.m. EDT Sunday to win the Masters. He became his homeland’s first male major champion. “As the coronavirus drags on, his achievement moved our hearts and gave us courage,” Suga said to Japanese media.
Jumbo Ozaki, who won a record 94 times on the Japan Golf Tour and competed in 19 Masters from 1972 to 2000, called Matsuyama’s victory “a great achievement for the Japanese golf world," according to Japanese media reports. "And it came about because of Mr. Matsuyama’s own ability to take up challenges, his courage and all the effort that went into that.”
Isao Aoki, a former touring professional who won 51 times on his home tour and once on the PGA Tour, heralded Matsuyama for the boost that he gave his homeland.
“Your Masters win came at a time when many people were feeling down, with many activities restricted in Japan amid a coronavirus pandemic, and you gave hope to so many people,” Aoki said in Japanese in comments reported by Golf Digest.
Before Matsuyama’s victory, Aoki had recorded the best finish by a Japanese male golfer in a major championship, a runner-up to Jack Nicklaus in the 1980 U.S. Open.
Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and the U.S. Embassy in Japan also were among the many Americans who sent congratulations to Matsuyama.
Two Japanese female golfers have won major titles: Chako Higuchi (1977 LPGA Championship) and Hinako Shibuno (2019 Women’s British Open).
For his part, Matsuyama headed home early Monday from Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport, where he was spotted by fellow travelers carrying the green jacket over his left arm while checking his phone en route to his flight home.
Because of Hideki Matsuyama, golf in the Tokyo Games this summer might be one of the most popular sports in the Olympics.
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