Hideki Matsuyama made history last spring when he won the Masters, donned the iconic green jacket and became the first Japanese to win a major golf championship.

And as the humble 29-year-old seeks to burnish his legacy by becoming the fourth player to win back-to-back Masters titles, he wants other players from his homeland to help him elevate Japanese golf to new heights. tops.

So far, only Jack Nicklaus in 1966, Nick Faldo in 1990 and Tiger Woods in 2002 have successfully defended Masters titles.

“It is not an easy task to accomplish,” Matsuyama recently told Kyodo News. “But I am the only one who has the privilege to challenge it (this time). I want to absorb (this reality).

“My family told me to just win another one, like it was easy to do. But I understand that winning again would mean I’m able to do all the things I couldn’t do this time around (due to COVID restrictions) like showing my friends the green Masters jacket. “

The Ehime Prefecture native suffered a fierce final round at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2021, after his four-stroke lead in the third round was reduced to one.

Xander Sc Chaudele of the United States initially pushed him to the limit with four consecutive birdies before retiring from the competition with a triple bogey on the 16th hole.

Matsuyama himself missed three of the last four holes, including the 18th when he landed in a bunker and hit two putts to win the title in his 10th tournament appearance.

“To be honest I thought it couldn’t be helped if I didn’t win,” he said.

“But I wanted to break the looming Masters curse before it spread to other Japanese golfers so they didn’t have to feel the angst I felt (chasing that first tournament win major). So I got attached.

Sinking the decisive putt, Matsuyama finished one step ahead of American rookie Will Zalatoris to secure the monumental victory.

The victory sparked an enthusiastic reaction at home and an emotional response from 11-time Masters competitor Tsuneyuki Nakajima, who finished eighth in 1986.

“Until then, not many people had told me that they were moved by my game,” Matsuyama said. “On my flight home (to Japan), I remembered Mr. Nakajima crying while commenting on TV, and I had tears in my eyes.”

Matsuyama played down the idea that having a first major win under his belt will make it easier for future tournaments to succeed.

“It won’t,” he said. “The configuration of the course and the pressure that reigns there are different for everyone. I look forward to knowing how I will react to these circumstances.

He’s also looking forward to something he can control: the Masters Champions Dinner. There, the former Masters champions meet on the eve of the tournament and the reigning champion chooses the menu.

“A lot of people say they like sushi, so I’d like something representative of Japan, sushi and wagyu beef,” Matsuyama said.

There were high hopes that Matsuyama would follow his Masters victory with an Olympic gold medal from Tokyo this summer, but that was not the case.

Under the scorching sun at Kasumigaseki Country Club, he finished 15 under, three strokes behind winner ScHotele, before being knocked out in the seven-man bronze medal playoff to finish fourth.

“I had heatstroke and I have almost no memory of the last nine days of the first day,” he said. “I had to have water poured over my head to stand up straight.

“With golf taking so much attention after winning the Masters, I couldn’t give up just because I was feeling lethargic. I really wanted a medal and felt it was so important to get one but it was the best I could do. I was desperate.

Mone Inami’s women’s silver gave Japan their first Olympic medal in golf. However, Japanese men are not hopeless and Matsuyama wants his young compatriots to get the job done.

“When people say that only Hideki can do it, part of me believes it’s true, but I want to leave that to others,” he said. “I achieved a goal by winning a major tournament, so I want to hand this (Olympic) challenge over to the younger generation.”

This group includes Takumi Kanaya and Keita Nakajima, both of whom won the Japanese tour as amateurs. The former won the Mark H. McCormack medal in 2020, presented annually to the leader of the amateur golf world rankings, and Nakajima claimed it in 2021.

Matsuyama hopes the two can forge their own path to success.

“I don’t want them to follow in my footsteps,” he said. “I am me and they are who they are. I hope they go their own way and never forget the fans are behind them, ”he said.

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