HIDEKI Matsuyama’s victory at the US Masters Tournament last Sunday was a wonderful achievement, for him personally and the greater game in Japan, and Asia.
Indeed, it was golf, the global golf that celebrated in sheer delight at a triumph that will become one for the ages.
The 29-year-old’s sixth PGA Tour win was the toast of world sport last weekend and rightly so. He beat a field that had in it, the game’s best players. And his 10-under 278 was just reward for an effort that illuminated his deft touch around the Augusta National Golf Club, where he was making a 10th appearance, and a performance of great determination.
Debutant Will Zalatoris finished runner-up, a shot back, while Xander Schauffele and 2015 champion Jordan Spieth were another stroke adrift in third.
But for all the hype that surrounded Matsuyama’s crowning moment in a career that has also had him win eight times on the Japan Golf Tour, a lot of folks went overboard in their high spiritedness, while others boarded on the brink of the absurd.
It is passable to advocate that Matsuyama’s Masters win will give rise to the awareness of the game in Asia and other parts of the globe where the sport is played on a lesser scale than in the more established arenas.
This is a natural reaction that applies to almost all sport disciplines when you get a monumental victory of this sort – achieved at the highest level in an unlikely fashion by a champion that is easily accepted in a region starved of this type of success.
The record shows that in men’s golf Y.E. Yang was the only Major champion from Asia before last Sunday and that he managed it 12 years ago.
And therein lies what we should be cognizant of when we celebrate the green jacket of Matsuyama and begin to brag about what it will do for the game in Asia.
Yes. We want our sport to grow in this region, as indeed everywhere else it is played. But to suggest that it will bring about “immediate gains” for golf in Asia is a wee bit far-fetched.
What will these gains be – financial or more numbers taking up golf, or both?
“Fanciful” was how one veteran of the game put it this week, referencing those who said there will be immediate gains for Asian golf following in the wake of Matsuyama’s Masters win.
“This is what they said after Y.E. Yang won the PGA Championship in 2009, when he surprisingly beat Tiger Woods. They (the commentators and forecasters) said there would be a boom for Asian golf and that a string of talents would follow Yang down the road of Major championship glory. Well, that has not happened and South Korea is still awaiting its second Major winner, while Asia as a whole awaits only its third after Matsuyama.”
This is by no means an attempt to take anything away from Matsuyama and his magnificent accomplishment at the Masters. But some of the rhetoric does need to be toned down.
Like the 30-year veteran said this week: “It would appear that some of these commentators are merely writing or saying things to appease their superiors and that’s a sad case because it is really not what happens on the ground.
“One can only conclude these are distorted views that are off the mark” he added.
Some of the mainstream outlets highlighted the rise in the number of anti-Asian hate crimes sweeping across the US that coincides with Matsuyama’s win.
The Guardian’s Sam Yip writes: “Some of us do ponder if Matsuyama’s win may actually encourage more animosity against Asians, specifically in the US. Much of golf’s American audience is white and conservative, from areas where there are few Asians.
“For some of them, seeing someone other than a white man in a green jacket may cause resentment – after all, it’s not like everyone was happy when Woods started his era of dominance among the country club set.”
We just hope that this will not be the case and Matsuyama’s victory will indeed give rise to better things for the sport here in Asia, even if it is not like what some overzealous folks are predicting it will be.