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Hideki Matsuyama leading an Asian tee party at Hero World Challenge golf tournament

Hideki Matsuyama, who is currently competing at the Hero World Challenge golf tournament, has established himself as the face of golf in Asia.

other sports Updated: Nov 30, 2017 23:37 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times, Albany
Hideki Matsuyama,Hero World Challenge,Hero World Challenge golf
Hideki Matsuyama in action during the Hero World Challenge golf tournament.(AP)

So far, Hideki Matsuyama has let his golf do the talking. Learning English can wait.

Four seasons on the PGA Tour has got Matsuyama, 25, five titles and 16 overall. Ranked fifth in the world, the Japanese golfer has had two wins, two second-place finishes --- one of them at the US Open --- and three more in the top-10 this year. The breakthrough season has got him over $8m in earnings.

Matsuyama is also the defending champion of the Hero World Challenge. “It’s one of my goals to be invited to this tournament… After I won this, I really started playing well,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.

In a sport looking east for attention, Matsuyama is the face of golf in Asia, its highest ranked player and one who is invited to play with US president Donald Trump and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

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He is the only Asian in the world’s top 30. At 65th, Anirban Lahiri is the lone Indian in a list that has 15 Asians among the world’s top 100 golfers. Most of them are from Japan and South Korea which, according to Forbes Asia report in October 2017, are the sport’s biggest retail markets after the USA.

The Forbes Asia report states there will be 13 Asians on the PGA Tour this term, up from three in 2000 and eight in 2010, including two from China. It lists the growth of the middle-class in Asian countries, India included, and the PGA’s bid to seek new territories as important reasons for golf’s burgeoning popularity in the continent.

“Asian golf has been on the rise for sometime... Just to give you a sense of the growth, seven members of my team for the Eurasia Cup in January are in the world’s top-100,” said Arjun Atwal from Mauritius where he is playing.

“I won’t be surprised if an Asian wins a Major in 2018 itself. For the present, most Asian winners on the PGA Tour are from South Korea and Japan but that will spread soon to China, India, Thailand and so on,” said Atwal, the only Indian to have won on the Tour (Wyndham, 2010).

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Matsuyama grew up watching Tiger Woods on TV. “His first Masters win in ’97 left a big impression on me. Before school, I would turn on the TV and watch and he would always be on. He’s just one of those guys who was always on TV,” said Matsuyama.

Now, he hopes to be a similar influence in Asia. “Hopefully, being in these types of tournaments and being able to play in the final groups and stuff, to be on TV, they could see one of their own play,” he said.

Sweat glistening, Matsuyama spoke to the media minutes after his Pro-Am round on Wednesday. Asked by a Tour official whether he wanted to be dropped off at his lodgings, Matsuyama preferred practising drives instead. Learning English can wait.

First Published: Nov 30, 2017 23:37 IST