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Where EAST meets the Northwest


SUPERIOR STROKES. Hideki Matsuyama of Japan hits a shot from the bunker on the fifth hole during the final round of the Professional Golfers’ Association Championship tournament at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina. Matsuyama has steadily risen in the FedEx Cup rankings each of the past three years. He now stands near the top of those rankings, thanks to a season in which he has more than doubled his career win output. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

GREAT GOLF. Hideki Matsuyama of Japan watches his tee shot on the sixth hole during the third round of the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) Championship tournament at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina. Matsuyama started his professional career in 2013, a year in which he finished in the top 25 in six PGA tournaments. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

From The Asian Reporter, V27, #17 (September 4, 2017), page 8.

Hideki Matsuyama quietly rises up the ranks of the PGA

By Mike Street

Special to The Asian Reporter

If you’d asked me last year which Asian or Asian-American golfer would have a good 2017, I might have said Jason Day, the Filipino-Australian golfer who has finished in the top 10 of the FedEx Cup rankings each of the last four years. Or maybe a young standout like New Zealand’s Danny Lee, Korean American Kevin Na, or Japan’s "Bashful Prince" Ryo Ishikawa — all of whom have shown flashes of greatness or consistency the last several years.

All of those are excellent golfers, but I would have overlooked Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, who has steadily risen in the FedEx Cup rankings each of the past three years. Matsuyama now stands near the top of those rankings, thanks to a season in which he has more than doubled his career win output.

You might remember Matsuyama’s dramatic Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) debut in the 2011 Masters, mere weeks after his hometown of Sendai was devastated by a 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami. The 19-year-old Matsuyama had qualified for the Masters after winning Japan’s Asian Amateur Championship.

Despite the fact he wasn’t even sure his entire family was safe, Matsuyama decided to play in the Masters, wearing a patch of the Japanese flag on his shirt that he dedicated to the quake victims. He took the tournament’s silver cup for the best performance by an amateur after finishing in a tie for 27th place.

In 2013, his first year as a professional, Matsuyama qualified for the PGA Tour and made the cut in all but the Sony Open, finishing in the top 25 in the six other PGA tournaments he entered. His best finish was a tie for sixth at The Open Championship, followed by a 10th-place finish at the U.S. Open.

The following season, Matsuyama won his first PGA tournament, shooting a 13-under to win the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance in June. But he notched only three other top-ten finishes in 2014, withdrawing or missing the cut in five other events.

2015 saw more consistency from Matsuyama as he missed the cut in just two events, finishing in the top five of six events and the top ten of three more. He ended the season in 16th place in the FedEx Cup rankings, his first year in the top 20.

Last season, Matsuyama finally collected that elusive second victory, winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he had tied for second and fourth the preceding two years. He also tied for third at the Wyndham Championship, his fourth time playing that course.

But Matsuyama did not merely perform well at familiar courses. He tied for fourth at the PGA Championship, the first PGA event at Baltusrol Golf Course since 2005. It was also his first tournament at East Lake Golf Course, at which he took fifth at the Tour Championship. He finished in the top ten in four other tournaments and in the top 25 at 10 others.

Matsuyama finished in 13th place in the FedEx Cup standings at the end of the season, setting him up for a breakthrough 2017, a season that began less than a month after the Tour Championship that concluded 2016.

He started the season with a burst of great golf. He placed second in the CIMB Classic to kick off the 2017 season, won the first leg of the World Golf Championships at the HSBC Champions, and placed second at the SBS Tournament of Champions.

His combined score at all three events equalled a whopping 62 strokes under par, and his win at the World Golf Championship put him in first place in the FedEx Cup rankings for the first time in his career. It’s easier to get atop the rankings early than it is to sustain that spot throughout the season, and Matsuyama slipped out of first after two weak showings at January tour events.

In February, Matsuyama again won the Waste Management Phoenix Open, returning him to first place in the FedEx Cup. Several months of weak play dropped him back as far as third place, but then he vaulted back into the top spot after tying for second at the U.S. Open and winning the Bridgestone Invitational leg of the World Golf Championships.

With the Tour Championship at the end of September, it’s sure to be a tight race between Matsuyama, Justin Thomas, and Jordan Spieth. And even if first place is just beyond Matsuyama’s grasp, this season and the steady growth leading up to it has shown the 25-year-old will be a contender for many years to come. He’s unlikely to be overlooked again.

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