A breakthrough Masters win simply months from the Tokyo Olympics has catapulted Japanese golf into the highlight, bringing deserved recognition for a rustic that has lengthy beloved the sport.
From businessmen swinging imaginary golf equipment at prepare stations, to the ubiquitous multi-storey driving ranges, Japan’s ardour for golf just isn’t laborious to identify.
When Hideki Matsuyama turned Japan’s first male major-winner — following Hisako Higuchi and Hinako Shibuno in the girls’s sport — golf-related shares surged and broadcasters held again tears on reside TV.
Hiroshi Yamanaka, managing director of the Japan Golf Association, mentioned Matsuyama’s one-shot win might encourage a brand new era of gamers after its heyday in the growth years of the late Eighties.
“The Masters is a tournament that everyone has heard of, whether they play golf or not,” Yamanaka instructed AFP.
“It puts golf in the spotlight, and maybe it will inspire people to try it for themselves.”
Matsuyama’s victory was watched by a rapt TV viewers in his residence nation, the place round seven million folks play golf.
It prompted blanket media protection as newspapers rushed to publish particular on-line editions.
At a big driving vary in Tokyo on Monday, novice gamers have been savouring Matsuyama’s victory as they hit balls off the tees.
“When I saw that Matsuyama, who is usually very stoic, had tears in his eyes, and when I heard the emotion in the commentator’s voice, I couldn’t hold back my own tears,” mentioned restaurant proprietor Teruyuki Onogi.
Japanese golf took a giant step ahead in October 2019 when it began internet hosting its first US PGA Tour occasion, the Zozo Championship, with followers flocking to see world-class stars like Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.
But golf was fashionable in Japan lengthy earlier than, fuelled by gamers like Masashi “Jumbo” Ozaki and Tsuneyuki “Tommy” Nakajima, who discovered worldwide success with out managing to win a serious.
– ‘Played by previous males’ –
Matsuyama’s win has even sparked hypothesis that he may very well be requested to gentle the Olympic cauldron at the Tokyo opening ceremony on July 23.
“If the schedules worked out and I’m in Japan when that happens and they ask me, what an honour that would be,” he mentioned.
Golf returned to the Olympic programme at Rio 2016 after a 102-year absence, and JGA government Yamanaka is hoping the Tokyo Games will carry participation in Japan.
The variety of Japanese golfers has decreased since the Eighties, when the sport’s shut relationship with enterprise made it “an important tool” for firms, Yamanaka mentioned.
He admitted that golf’s costly picture nonetheless makes it “something that feels distant for young people”, however he says attitudes are altering and Matsuyama’s win can “accelerate” the development.
“It’s not just Matsuyama — we have a lot of good young players, especially women,” Yamanaka mentioned.
“A lot of parents want their daughters to become pro golfers nowadays.”
Higuchi received the 1977 LPGA Championship and Shibuno triumphed at the 2019 Women’s British Open, whereas former gamers like Ai Miyazato are family names in Japan.
Yamanaka says golf has turn out to be extra accessible for folks of all ages in latest years, and that extra girls and younger persons are getting concerned.
He says the sport has additionally benefited from the pandemic, with folks seeing it as a safer solution to preserve match than gyms or different indoor actions.
At the driving vary on Monday, restaurant proprietor Onogi agreed that Matsuyama’s win might assist revamp golf’s picture in Japan.
“As the news spreads, people might stop considering golf to be a sport played by old men, and take an interest in it,” he mentioned.
“If we can create a more inclusive environment that allows people to take up golf more easily, I think Japanese will become better at it.”