A Japanese Man Finally Wins A Major Golf Championship
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Hideki Matsuyama held on for a one stroke victory in the Masters, the first ever major championship for a Japanese man. Veteran Washington Post sports columnist Tom Boswell explains why closing out an international victory is such a struggle for Japanese athletes:

For decades, I have watched the way the press from Japan obsessively covers its athletes, especially in golf and baseball, sports in which it shares a common, profound passion with America. You have to see it to believe it. It is adoration and judgment, celebrity and imminent disgrace, the highest honor and profound loss of face, pressed close against each other.

A dozen or dozens of reporters and photographers will follow just one player from Japan, reporting his (or her) every move day after day, sometimes month after month. No doubt, the royals in Great Britain have it worse for ludicrous levels of scrutiny over trivialities and flaws. But for many years, whenever a player from Japan has been in contention at any major, especially the Masters, everywhere he looked he would see a moving mass of photographers and reporters from his country.

What was different this year? Because of the pandemic, there were strict limits on press access — in number and proximity. You might as well have banned a firing squad, especially for the shy Matsuyama.

“Being in front of the media is still difficult,” Matsuyama said this week. “It’s not my favorite thing to do, to stand and answer questions. And so with fewer media, it’s been a lot less stressful for me, and I’ve enjoyed this week.” …

Japan’s infatuation with golf ignited after a televised competition in 1957, when top pros Torakichi Nakamura and Koichi Ono beat Sam Snead and Jimmy Demaret in the Canada Cup, with Nakamura winning individual honors by seven shots. In a sport dominated by Americans, Japan had competed in an international competition and won handily.

… In 1980 at the U.S. Open, I followed for four days as Isao Aoki, a Hall of Famer, went head-to-head with Jack Nicklaus in the same group. “Jack’s Back!” was the headline from that two-shot win over Aoki. But Nicklaus had to set a U.S. Open scoring record to hold him off.

From that day, Japan, its players, its press and its public has waited and hoped for the country’s first winner of a men’s major.

There are four major championships per year in golf (and in tennis).

It has been a long 41 years.

How many microscopes has Matsuyama been under for the past 10 years as he finished in the top 10 in seven majors but frequently showed nerves? Few players, even excellent ones, can suddenly find it in themselves and their games to win “out of nowhere.” But Matsuyama, despite his long drought, just did it. …

On Sunday, everything did not come together for Matsuyama. In fact, things almost came apart, both early and late. That makes his win more admirable, not less. …

Hideki Matsuyama, who spent Saturday’s rain delay playing games on his phone in his car, did not ask to be a symbol of his golf-loving nation’s quest for a major champion. But when the moment came, he was equal to it — by one shot. If your heart is kind, give a thanks for that.

[Comment at Unz.com]

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