“I didn’t see it in person, but I did see it on TV, and I thought it was something very special,” said Matsuyama, recalling the marvelous gesture as he prepared for his Green Jacket defense in the event’s 86th edition.
“I’m glad that Shota did it,” he added. “It’s a sign of respect, not only to the Masters tournament but Augusta National. It was something that was good. I never really thought it would receive the attention that it has generated.”
Helped by a third-round 65, Matsuyama succeeded where the likes of Isao Aoki, ‘Jumbo’ Ozaki, Tommy Nakajima and Shigeki Maruyama all came up short in their bids over the years to become a major champion.
“To be the first to do it was a source of great pride, I guess,” admitted the 30-year-old, who has been hampered by a back problem in the build up to his return to the Georgia venue. “But I’m really not the pioneer.
“There’s been so many others that have come before me that have laid the foundation for me to achieve this goal. So it’s not just me, but it’s all of those that have gone before me that have tried and struggled and put the work in and were great examples to me.”
During his reign as Masters champion, Matsuyama has landed the Zozo Championship on home soil by five shots and also won the Sony Open in Hawaii in a play-off. Off the course, though, has the last 12 months changed his life from him? “I know I’m a happier person. I’ve also noticed people have received me differently. It’s been a wonderful experience. If that’s changed my life, I don’t know.
“But that’s really the one impression that I’ve had this past year is how warm people have embraced me and received me and cheered me on.”
He shed tears of joy straight after the win. “Yeah, those tears, it wasn’t because I won,” he insisted. “Walking up from the 18th green, I saw all my team, and they were all crying, and I think that’s probably what started me crying, too.
“But it was really cool to be able to share that with my team. The feeling of ‘we finally did it’. That was the reason why those tears were falling down all of our cheeks.”
The day after his triumph, Matsuyama was pictured sitting in Atlanta airport with his Green Jacket hanging over a chair. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, his celebration of him back in Japan was initially a diluted affair.
“It was difficult because of the quarantine,” he said. “I arrived in Japan and immediately for two weeks was under quarantine. But, when that finished, I still had a week and was able to celebrate with friends and family.
“Shigeki Maruyama (his mentor) was one of those that I was able to celebrate with. Even though it was a little belated, it was still a good celebration.”
It’s a Masters tradition that winners donate a meaningful club to Augusta National. “I sat a 56-degree wedge,” he revealed. “I used that wedge a lot last year at the Masters, and it was one of the reasons why I was able to win. The club performed very well.”
Matsuyama led by four shots heading into the final circuit before seeing his cushion quickly whittled down to just a shot by Will Zalatoris. But, after making three birdies on the front nine, it was plain sailing in the end.
“I don’t know how well I controlled it,” he said of the last-day pressure. “I guess if I won, I was able to control it well. But it was a struggle all day long. I felt that pressure right until the end.”
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