News & Opinion

Will Hideki Matsuyama’s Masters victory matter for Olympics?

Hideki Matsuyama wins 2021 Masters
Hideki Matsuyama, winner of the recent Masters Tournament, gives Japan an irresistible story line as host of the Olympic Games this summer, but will it matter?

Japan will host Summer Olympics with its own Masters champion, but Hawk & Purk debate whether it will boost interest in golf

Hawk & Purk Podcast Hero Article

Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Mike Purkey, who co-host the Hawk & Purk podcast on MorningRead.com, also discuss and debate the game’s hottest issues in this weekly commentary.

Will Hideki Matsuyama’s Masters victory increase interest in the golf competition at the Summer Olympics, to be held later this year in Japan, his native country?

Hawk’s take: Sure … if you happen to be Japanese or you’re just a huge fan of the finest golfer Asia ever has produced. The rest of the world, however, isn’t going to invest any more energy in the Olympic golf tournament than it did during the gathering in 2016, which wasn’t much. We see these guys play all the time. The five-ring thing doesn’t add any significance to what is basically a well-intended disruption to the PGA Tour schedule. And some of the game’s biggest names will look for a reason to bail on the festivities, as was the case five years ago, with COVID-19 serving as a viable excuse not to participate.

Matsuyama, meanwhile, isn’t exactly Arnold Palmer in terms of generating mainstream attention. He’s a hero in his homeland, of course, but that’s the extent of his international appeal. One might venture to guess that Tiger Woods remains the most popular golfer in Asia. Matsuyama is a very good player whose success in the United States makes him a pioneer of sorts, but sooner or later, a Japanese tour pro was going to start winning big events.

The latest Masters champion comes from the planet’s most golf-crazed nation. Those folks will show up by the tens of thousands to watch the Olympic action, regardless of who sticks a peg into the ground on the first tee.

Purk’s take: To say that Hideki Matsuyama’s Olympic appeal is limited to Japan – the Summer Games will be held in Tokyo in late July through early August – it’s fair to point out that 126 million people live in that country, and to nearly every one of them, Matsuyama is a genuine hero. In fact, it’s better than even money that the newly minted Masters champ will carry his country’s flag in the Olympics’ opening ceremony, which will be watched worldwide by somewhere between the 342 million television viewers from Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and 1 billion viewers when the games were in Beijing in 2008.

That’s far from insignificant. As far as Matsuyama’s broad-based appeal is concerned, it can be debated whether Tiger Woods is the most popular player in Asia. But the green-jacketed Matsuyama is bound to be No. 2, or perhaps even 1a.

If you’re concerned that Matsuyama won’t move the needle in the U.S., it should be noted that there are 1.46 million Japanese-Americans in this country and about 440,000 Japanese citizens living in America at any given time. All told, the Asian-American population in the U.S. is about 18 million. It’s a good bet that a high percentage will tune in to watch Matsuyama in Tokyo.

And if you think the players don’t care about the Olympics, ask Justin Rose how he feels about winning the gold medal in 2016. He’ll be happy to show it to you.

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