Japan heartened by Matsuyama’s historic Masters win

A FIRST FOR JAPAN — Hideki Matsuyama of Japan celebrates with the champion’s green jacket after winning the Masters Tournament on April 11 at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. Kyodo News photo

TOKYO — People living in the hometown of Hideki Matsuyama and his university town in Japan on April 12 congratulated the golfer, who became the first player from the country to claim a men’s major golf championship this past weekend.

In Tokyo, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called Matsuyama’s Masters victory at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11 an “outstanding accomplishment,” noting that he is the first Asian player to win the Masters.

“His win inspired and gave courage to the people of Japan amid the prolonged novel coronavirus pandemic,” Suga told reporters at the prime minister’s office on April 12. “We look forward to (his performances) in the future.”

Noting that Matsuyama is a graduate of Tohoku Fukushi University in Sendai in northeastern Japan, battered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami 10 years ago, Suga said he “provided a lot of strength in disaster recovery efforts.”

Current and former athletes also posted their congratulatory messages on social media for Matsuyama for making history.

“Matsuyama amazing! I was moved. Congratulations on the win!” tweeted tennis star Kei Nishikori, who shares the same management company as the golfer.

Dolgorsuren Dagvadorj, the former sumo grand champion known as Asashoryu, also lauded the feat. He was Matsuyama’s senior schoolmate at Meitoku Gijuku high school in Kochi Prefecture.

“Wonderful, wonderful. He’s made history. He deserves the People’s Honor Award,” the Mongolian tweeted.

Dozens of customers and fans gathered at the driving range operated by Matsuyama’s father in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, on the island of Shikoku to watch the championship, cheering when the 29-year-old golfer won.

“It’s not an easy feat,” said Shinji Masaoka, 52, who watched the game before heading to work.

“I think he’ll win many more Masters,” said Matsuyama fan Hiroshige Kato, 65, who was wearing an autographed hat. “I want him to be ranked No. 1 in the world.”

The athlete made his Masters debut a decade ago as an amateur and university student, only weeks after the city of Sendai was hit by the earthquake and tsunami disaster.

After wavering, he decided to take part in the competition as he was encouraged to do so by the residents and survivors, said his university coach Yasuhiko Abe, 58. “I want to praise him when he comes back to visit,” said Abe after he received a call from Matsuyama, who told him, “I did it.”

“Many people supported him, and he grew to become the Hideki Matsuyama we know today,” Abe added. “Matsuyama plans on participating in the Tokyo Olympics. I want him to win a gold medal.”

A member of the university’s golf club Ren Yonezawa, 21, said he was proud to watch an alumnus win the championship. “It was as if he was cheering us on by telling us to ‘keep having big dreams and goals’ as we struggle through the pandemic.”

Kosuke Takahashi, 43, who was visiting a driving range in Sendai, said, “Us residents felt heartened watching his performance after the disaster.” Takahashi watched the game from the early hours of the morning and praised how “amazing it was that he made this achievement as the first Japanese player.”

Following the championship, the golfer said his victory would “lead Japanese people to change.”

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