On several different occurrences last season, nobody played better golf than Hideki Matsuyama.
Matsuyama was in serious discussion for PGA Tour Player of the Year in 2016-17, and even led all players in the FedEx Cup playoff race entering the first postseason event. He was simply dialed in, until a late-season downfall burned him. Nonetheless, Matsuyama has solidified himself as a top-tier golfer – one of the many young players to grace the tour.
— Asian Tour (@asiantourgolf) October 10, 2017
Here’s everything you need to know about the Japanese star.
It Begins: PGA Tour Card
After winning the 2010 Asian Amateur Championship, Matsuyama punched his ticket to the 2011 Masters where he created a buzz by being the only amateur to make the cut. He also won a gold medal in 2011 World University Games which helped earn the top spot in the World Amateur Golf Rankings.
Matsuyama decided to turn pro in 2013 and tore up the Japan circuit before another strong showing in a major championship – placing top 10 in the U.S. Open.
His PGA Tour card was granted in 2014 through non-member earnings, and his career took off from there.
First Victory and Those That Followed
Matsuyama’s initial victory came at the 2014 Memorial – the first of three wins in his career which would be settled in a playoff. In 2015, he failed to record a win, but did finish fifth in the Masters and competed in his first Presidents Cup.
His second PGA Tour nod came in another playoff, this time against Rickie Fowler at the 2016 Waste Management Phoenix Open. But for his third win, no playoff was needed as Matsuyama blitzed the field at the HSGC Championship for a seven-stroke victory. He also won the Hero World Challenge in December 2016.
Matsuyama defended his trophy at this year’s Phoenix Open in another playoff (defeating Webb Simpson), then went on to place runner-up in the 2017 U.S. Open. Two months later, the 25-year-old won the WGC Bridgestone Invitational title by shooting 61 in the final round. In the next tournament, Matsuyama produced a top five at the PGA Championship, putting him in prime position as the favorite entering the FedEx Cup playoffs.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) August 24, 2017
However, Matsuyama missed the cut at The Northern Trust, and was never quite right from then on. His best finish in the final three events was 23rd, dropping him to eighth in the final point standings.
Drama On and Off the Course
Considering no one knew Matsuyama had a family prior to this past August, we don’t know much about his personal life. He’s one of the most private professionals on tour because 1) he doesn’t speak English, and 2) he keeps things to himself.
Japanese media follows Matsuyama at nearly every PGA Tour event, but were shocked to learn he has a wife and kid. Honestly, how did anyone not know this before now? Matsuyama and his wife have been married since January and gave birth to a daughter in July.
— FOX Sports Asia (@FOXSportsAsia) August 16, 2017
“No one really asked me if I was married, so I didn’t have to answer that question,” he told reporters. “But I felt that after the PGA would be a good time, because our baby is born and I thought that would be a good time to let everyone know.”
Matsuyama broke into the Official World Golf Ranking top 50 after the 2013 U.S. Open, then jumped up to 13th after the win at Memorial.
He didn’t arrive in the top 10 until the first event of the 2016-17 season, but his victory in the HSBC Championship solidified his position up to sixth. He remained there for several weeks, but reached as high as second following this year’s U.S. Open. Currently, he sits third overall behind only Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth.
Matsuyama’s greatest strength is his ball striking, ranking fifth in strokes gained tee-to-green last season. Other key stat rankings: 26th in strokes gained off the tee, 26th in driving distance, seventh in strokes gained: approach, and 37th in scrambling.
Clearly, his kryptonite is putting. Matsuyama was the 18th worst putter on tour last season (173rd), with the flat stick really letting him down in the playoffs. Late in the season, Matsuyama toyed with several different putters, and never settled on one particular model. That needs to change in 2017-18.
HIdeki Matsuyama has 5 putters w/him this week, says he'll choose one right before the first tee on Thursday.
— Alex Myers (@AlexMyers3) August 22, 2017
What the Future Holds
Behind Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, Matsuyama is the brightest young star in golf. He’s fallen inches short of capturing a major championship in multiple tries – finishing top six in all four tournaments – so it’s only a matter of time before he breaks through.