Hideki Matsuyama could be to Japan what Adam Scott was in 2013 to Australia. Just two shots off the 54-hole lead of Jordan Spieth, Matsuyama is in position to become the first Japanese man to win a major championship.
Women’s golf is actually more popular in Japan — like it is in South Korea — so Matsuyama thinks a green jacket might elevate the men’s game in a country whose up-and-coming generation is largely rejecting golf.
“We have a women’s tour in Japan that is very, very popular,” Matsuyama said Saturday through a translator. “Hopefully a major win would give more popularity to the men’s tour.”
Despite the popularity of the JLPGA and LPGA in Japan, the country only has one female major champion: Chako Higuchi, who won the 1977 LPGA Championship.
Matsuyama is the latest golf product that has inspired hopes of breaking through with a men’s major. The only two-time winner of the Augusta National-run Asia Pacific Amateur Championship, Matsuyama has taken the mantle from Ryo Ishikawa, who dominated in Japan as a teenager but whose game has so far translated poorly to the PGA Tour and major championship golf.
The best finish by a Japanese man in a major belongs to Isao Aoki, who finished second to Jack Nicklaus in the 1980 U.S. Open at Baltusrol in New Jersey. Aoki earned five top-10 major finishes in his career, one behind Tommy Nakajima. Nakajima had the lead on the tee of the 71st hole of the 1978 Open Championship at St. Andrews but made a stunning 9 on the Road Hole par-4 17th. A decade later, he finished third in the 1988 PGA Championship.
As for the Masters, two Japanese players have each finished tied for fourth: Toshi Izawa in 2001 and Shingo Katayama in 2009.