COVER STORY I HIDEKI MATSUYAMA
Hideki Matsuyama poses with the winner's trophy after the final round of 2016 WGC-HSBC Champions
The defining moment of Hideki Matsuyama, the standardbearer for golf in Japan’s young and ascendant career, was winning the 2016 WGC-HSBC Champions.
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“The tournament has been growing a lot in the last few years,” said 2010 WGC-HSBC Champions winner Francesco Molinari
exceptional winners. Four of the eight are Major champions, and the other four have been members of either a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team. Players from six different countries have won the event over the last eight years, making it truly an international tournament.
h e n H i d e k i Mat suya ma bega n to play at the 2 016 Wo rl d G ol f ChampionshipHSBC Champions, he was just another good, young player, a talented 20-something on the brink of stardom. By the end of the week, Matsuyama had emerged as an international force. Matsuyama followed his victory at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions with two additional victories on the PGA TOUR and finished first in the FedExCup’s Regular-Season standings. By the end of the season, he was the world No. 3 player. When pundits spoke about potential Major champions, Matsuyama’s name was mentioned in the same breath as Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy. And it all started at the HSBC Champions. That should not be surprising. Since t he tou r na ment b ec a me a World G ol f Championships event in 2009, the HSBC Cha mpions has produced a rol l ca l l of
“They do a great job here. I think you’ll see more and more guys wanting to come over here and play,” said World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who won the event in 2013
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significant in many ways for Matsuyama. In addition to a three-year PGA TOUR exemption, Official World Golf Ranking points and prize money, he became the first player from Japan - the first from Asia, actually - to win a WGC event. It tied Matsuyama with Shigeki Maruyama, one of his boyhood heroes, for most PGA TOUR wins by a Japanese player, a mark that Matsuyama has since broken. “ To win the HSBC was probably my biggest achievement,” Matsuyama said. “I was the first Asian to win that event, and to me, that was a big deal.” Matsuyama’s win at the HSBC Champions wa s a def i n i ng moment i n h is you ng, ascendant career. It was a tremendous victory over a field that was stacked with the best players in the world. Matsuyama opened the tournament with a 66 and never slowed. He finished with rounds of 65-68-66 to finish at 17-under. He completed the final 45 holes without a bogey and won by seven shots over Henrik Stenson and Daniel Berger, the thirdwidest margin of victory in a WGC event. “Hideki played just unbelievable, and it was a pleasure to watch,” Berger said. “He struck it well. He putted well. He chipped it well. He did everything well, and that’s why he won by so many.” HKGOLFER.COM
In fact, barring an unprecedented collapse in the last round, the only drama on the final day was whether Matsuyama would wind up with 30 birdies for the week. A bold approach shot on the 72nd hole wound up in the water and Matsuyama had to settle for 29. W it h h i s t a n k of con f idence at f u l l capacity, Matsuyama continued to build on his HSBC Champions’ victory. He won again at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February -successfully defending his title and again at the World Golf ChampionshipsBridgestone Invitational in July. Only Justin Thomas (four) won more times during the 2016-17 regular season. Matsuyama, who was married and became a father in 2017, has been forced to deal with increased scrutiny from the media, especially in his native Japan. A large corps of reporters and photographers are on hand at each event to chronicle his success. The attention has helped raise his profile in his home country to the point, where he is virtually unable to go out for a meal without being recognised. It has also made him the standard-bearer for golf in Japan and elevated what fans imagine for him, a fact he recognises. “The expectations of people around me are high,” Matsuyama said. “I don’t really worry too much about that. Hopefully not put too HKGOLFER.COM
much pressure on myself. But I know other people expect a lot of me and all I can do is just try my best.” The HSBC Champions has a history of producing great winners, like Matsuyama. The event was created in 2005 and became an official European Tour and Asian Tour event a year later. It achieved World Golf Championships status in 2009 and became a part of the PGA TOUR’s FedExCup schedule in 2013. The tournament draws the game’s best players each year. In 2016 the field included ten major champions and eight of the top-10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking. Twenty-five countries were represented in the 78-player field. “It says something about HSBC. It says something about this golf tournament,” said World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who won the event in 2013. “They do a great job here. I think you’ll see more and more guys wanting to come over here and play.” “We play [HSBC Champions] outside the U.S., so I think it’s very important for global fans to have a chance to see the players there and to be part of such an amazing tournament that’s part of an amazing series of tournaments such as the WGCs,” Molinari added. “It’s now nice to see the American stars travelling more and playing a lot all over the world.” Scotland’s Russell Knox, the 2015 HSBC Champions’ winner, said, “It’s amazing when you get to play against the strongest fields in golf. There are so many massive names here, and it’s the best way to test your game to see how good you stack up against the best of the best.” Most of the competitors, like Matsuyama, bring a lofty goal. “Becoming No. 1 in the world is the goal I think of all of us out here,” Matsuyama said. “I still have some weak links in my game that I have to work on, but hopefully, little by little, I’ll be able to improve and to fix what I need to, and hopefully someday compete for No. 1.” HK GOLFER・OCT 2017
Matsuyama celebrates his victory with his caddy following the final round of 2016 WGCHSBC Champions
“It’s great for the growth of the game in that part of the world. The tournament has been growing a lot in the last few years,” said 2010 HSBC Champions winner Francesco Molinari of Italy. “More and more players from the U.S. are going over there to play. I think it’s great to go there and allow fans to experience once a year golf live, a chance to see the best players in the world.” For his part, Molinari has found China very much to his liking. Besides his 2010 HSBC Champions’ triumph, he teamed with brother Edoardo to win the World Cup of Golf for Italy in Shenzhen in 2009. Molinari will be playing in his seventh HSBC Cha mpions, t r y i ng to det h rone Matsuyama who defends his title Oct. 23-29 when the tournament returns to the Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai. The top players in the game will gather in China for one of the most important tournaments of the fall, one that can set the tone for the 2017-18 season - just like it did for Matsuyama. This year, the HSBC Champions will be the third of three Asian events in a row, following the US$7 million CIMB Classic in Malaysia and the first-year US$9.25 million CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES in South Korea. T he H S BC C h a mpion s v ic tor y wa s