Monday, 23rd January, 2017

Hideki Matsuyama makes history

Story published at 10:11, Monday, October 31st, 2016


SHANGHAI, CHINA - OCTOBER 30: Hideki Matsuyama of Japan celebrates victory on the 18th green during day four of the WGC - HSBC Champions at Sheshan International Golf Club on October 30, 2016 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

SHANGHAI, CHINA – OCTOBER 30: Hideki Matsuyama of Japan celebrates victory on the 18th green during day four of the WGC – HSBC Champions at Sheshan International Golf Club, Shanghai, China. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Straight after becoming the first Japanese winner of a WGC event – the HSBC-WGC Champions – the 24-year-old Hideki Matsuyama was being asked about majors. “I think I’ve got closer to being able to compete,” he warned. “I’m going to start preparing well for them.”

Matsuyama won by a cool seven shots from Henrik Stenson and Daniel Berger, with Rory McIlroy and Bill Haas one shot further back. His rounds of 66, 65, 68 and 66 took in as many as 29 birdies – and he had been trying desperately to bring that tally up to 30 when he knocked his second into the water at the 18th.

Needless to say, that 30th birdie did not materialise, but he was still well pleased with himself for getting up and down – his putt was an 18-footer – for a closing par.

In amateur days Matsuyama, who won two Asian Amateur titles, was known as the boy with a strong heart. A strong heart was what he demonstrated on Sunday. Three ahead overnight, he felt nervous standing on the first tee before calming himself down with an opening birdie, courtesy of a beautifully rhythmic eight iron. The eighth was a bit of a problem as he played his way down the rough rather than the fairway but, as at the 18th, he walked off with a par. He saw that early hole as a key point in his round: had he failed to make his par and Berger made his 25-footer for a birdie, his lead could have been cat to two. “After that,” said the winner, “everything became much easier.”

Hideki Matsuyama (Getty Images)

Hideki Matsuyama (Getty Images)

He did one media interview after another and posed for all the Japanese photographers who had arrived to see if their man could win so big an event. And at the end of it all, he wanted nothing so much as to ring his parents who, he said, had made everything possible and who had never wanted anything more for him in life than to be happy in his career of choice. “I owe it all to them,” he said, feelingly.

Stenson, who for much of the afternoon was concentrating on trying to finish ahead of Rory McIlroy, who is likely to be his greatest rival when it comes to the season-ending Dubai DP World championship, was full of praise for Matsuyama.

“He’s not the most aggressive golfer but he’s a good, solid striker and he’s on a great roll. He showed everyone how he could keep his foot on the pedal. It was an impressive runaway win.”

Berger, while thrilled with his own performance, was no less in awe of his Eastern rival. “Hideki played just unbelievable and it was a pleasure to watch. You can learn a lot from watching him at work.”

The same, you would have to think, would have applied to the countless Chinese children who have been following play over the week at Sheshan. Matsuyama, when asked about the advance of golf in China, prophesied that the Chinese players at Sheshan would be competing in the big events before too long.

If such a thing should happen, no-one would be more delighted than Giles Morgan, HSBC’s Global Head of Sponsorship and Events and the man who first recommended that his company play the HSBC Champions in China.

“I’d love it if Li Haotong or one of his compatriots were to have his name etched on this trophy at some point,” said Morgan. “I’d feel a huge sense of pride.”

Giles Morgan continues: “This isn’t just a breakthrough for Hideki Matsuyama, this is a breakthrough for all of golf. Heading into this year’s WGC-Champions we felt that golf might be on the verge of a new horizon and everything that’s happened this week proves we were right track. Just look at the leaderboard and our new champion. We simply didn’t predict it would happen in such spectacular fashion!

“Congratulations to Hideki on a remarkable performance. As the youngest winner of our event he represents a new breed of rising young stars from Asia and today has written a new chapter in the sport’s history. One we are very proud to be associated with.

“This has been long predicted. We predicted this time would come in our 2020 vision report written in 2012, then again this year from our State of Play 2020 update HSBC Golf Report (http://www.theopen.com/hsbc). So it hasn’t come overnight and is the result of supporting every level of golf for more than a decade in Asia, all starting with this flagship tournament, ‘Asia’s Major’. But now that it’s arrived this feels like a defining moment and couldn’t happen at a better time for golf as it strives to become truly global. To have the first Asian winner of a World Golf Championship event win in Shanghai against the strongest field ever assembled in Asia says all there is to know about our ambition for the game and its bright future.

“When we first brought HSBC Champions to China in 2005 few would have thought the scenes we witnessed today at Sheshan were possible so just think where the game can go from here if grasped. But the unstoppable force of golf in Asia continues.”

More information can be found at www.hsbcgolf.com

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