Matsuyama’s a great player, say Schwartzel, Oosthuizen

Apr 12, 2021 | Featured, South Africans abroad

It was all Hideki Matsuyama on Sunday as he became the first Japanese man to win a major championship, winning the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club as he saw off all challengers and survived a few challenges of his own.

The 29-year-old carded a final-round of one-over-par 73, making bogey on 18, but it was enough to beat debutant Will Zalatoris on the United States by one stroke, and hold off the charge by Xander Schauffele which petered out when the American made a triple-bogey six on the 16th in what was largely an unforced error.

In truth, though, it was Matsuyama’s preternatural calm during a round which he started with a four-stroke lead that forced the error from Schauffele. And although the world number 25 – who rose to 14th with his green jacket – was calm on the exterior, it was anything but smooth sailing for him.

“My nerves really didn’t start on the second nine,” he said. “It was right from the start today. Right to the very last putt.

“My plan this morning was to wake up about 9:30. But needless to say, I arose much earlier than that and couldn’t go back to sleep. So I came to the golf course early. Had a really good warm-up. I felt really good going to the first tee, until I stood on the first tee, and then it hit me that I’m in the last group of the Masters Tournament and I’m the leader by four strokes. And then I was really nervous.

“But I caught myself, and the plan today was just go out and do my best for 18 holes. And so that was my thought throughout day, just keep doing my best. Do my best.”

South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel, who won the green jacket himself when Matsuyama was the low amateur in 2011, knew what his best could achieve. “Hideki, he’s just a great player,” said Schwartzel. “I’m sure he’s shown us all over the last 10 years that he’s been out here that, when he gets going, he’s a guy that feeds off confidence.”

Louis Oosthuizen, who won the 2010 Open Championship, agreed with Schwartzel. “He’s all around just a great player, and when he gets it sort of dialled in, he backs himself a lot, and he hits the shot that needs to be hit,” he said.

Schwartzel and Oosthuizen were South Africa’s top finishers at Augusta, ending up on one-over-par for the tournament, 11 shots behind Matsuyama.

“I felt very prepared,” said Schwartzel. “I felt like this is about as happy as I’ve been with my game for a long time. I think it was about as comfortable as I’ve ever felt here, felt like I hit the ball as close as I’ve ever hit it here. I just really got nothing out of it, which means in laymen’s terms, I didn’t make any putts.”

Oosthuizen characterised is week as disappointing. “I always look forward to this week, playing it,” he said. “It’s a golf course I love, and I probably came in here the best I’ve been stroking it. It was the other part of the game that I was struggling with. Every year you learn something new about this golf course, and hopefully I’ll be back here next year to try again.”

Christiaan Bezuidenhout was unable to convert his great start of two-under 70 into more under-par rounds to get himself into contention in a tournament many feel he could win. He closed with a level-par 72, but after second and third rounds of 76 and 74, his four-over-par total was too far off the pace.

For Matsuyama, there is the knowledge that his green jacket will be the international awakening of what everyone has known for a long time is the sleeping giant of golf that is Japan specifically, and, more generally, Asia. “I hope it will affect golf in Japan in a good way,” he said. “Not only those who are golfers already, but hopefully the youngsters who are playing golf or thinking about playing golf, I hope they will see this victory and think it’s cool and try to follow in my footsteps.

“I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like,” he added of the reception he will receive back home. “But what a thrill and honour it will be for me to take the green jacket back to Japan. And I’m really looking forward to it.”

Matsuyama will be carrying something other than the jacket with him. “I can’t say I’m the greatest,” he said when asked how winning the Masters will enhance his reputation. “However, I’m the first to win a major, and if that’s the bar, then I’ve set it.”

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