PGA of Australia coach Gareth Jones doesn’t expect Japan will have to wait another 86 years for a male Major champion after Hideki Matsuyama’s historic one-stroke victory at Augusta National Golf Club a week ago.
Ever since Walter Hagen invited six Japanese players to America for exhibition matches and to compete at the 1935 US Open, the golf-mad nation of Japan has been waiting for a male champion to call their very own.
Two female Japanese players have tasted Major glory (Chako Higuchi and Hinako Shibuno), but with Matsuyama’s breakthrough Jones says there will be a flood of talent to come out of Japan with an elevated sense of self belief.
Based at Glenelg Golf Club in Adelaide when home in Australia, Jones has served as the national coach for the Japan Golf Association since October 2015 and has no doubt that – just like Adam Scott did for his fellow Aussies – Matsuyama’s win will inspire the next wave of Japanese golfers to chase equally lofty goals.
“It says that it’s possible. We can actually win in America and win a Major championship,” Jones said.
“The great thing, hopefully, is that it has taken the heat off the young guys that I’m working with so they’re not having to be the first one. It’s incredible to be the first – just like Adam Scott for Australia – but my thought is that they will see it as a massive confidence boost for themselves.
“It’s going to open the possibilities for the elite players to believe in themselves more and hopefully for more of them to want to go overseas. These young guys can see that they are only a few years behind Hideki. He was brave enough to go straight to the States and base his career high – which most of the young guys in our team want to do.
“It will certainly stimulate a focus in that area. Hopefully I can keep them going in the right direction and not just hitting thousands of golf balls each day. It’s a trap that they can certainly fall into because their work ethic is phenomenal.”
The impact of Jones on the Japanese system was evident at the 2018 Australian Open at The Lakes Golf Club in Sydney where amateurs Keita Nakajima and Takumi Kanaya finished inside the top 20. Kanaya was tied for third at The Australian Golf Club 12 months later and is currently vying to partner Matsuyama in the Japan team at the Tokyo Olympics, leading the next wave of Japanese golfers ready to take on the world.
“Takumi Kanaya is very special,” said Jones, who will attend the Olympics with world No.118 Kanaya should he qualify for the Japanese team.
“I don’t think he’s as good a ball-striker as Hideki, but he’s an awesome player. We know Seve Ballesteros as more of a player than a pure ball-striker and Takumi is like that. He has a massive spirit inside him that acts as his 15th club. He just absolutely never gives up. It’s just really different.
“Japan has got lots of very good players, they all just need to have the confidence to go overseas. I’ve been pretty impressed with the standard of scores at the Japan Junior Championships or Japan Amateur Championships. The scoring is phenomenal.
“So many players try to go to tour school, so many players try to qualify for the Japan Open, so many players try to qualify for the Japan amateur. They have eight qualifying tournaments for the Japan Amateur alone.
“To see what Hideki did at the Asian Amateur [winning in 2010 and 2011] and then Takumi do it [winning in 2018] and now for Hideki to actually win the Masters, that’s a massive motivation for the Japanese players. They’re really seeing that now as the pathway to international golf.”
As for the reaction back in Japan, Jones expects it will rival the likes of Greg Norman in his heyday in Australia and Tiger Woods when at the peak of his powers.
“He’s a rock star,” Jones said of Matsuyama’s status in his homeland.
“Golf is massive over there. There would be half a dozen weekly golf magazines and then all the monthly magazines on top of that and then the online stuff. It’s full-on all the time. If Hideki’s face isn’t on two of the magazines each and every week I’d be very surprised. They really do put them on a pedestal and treat them like gods but with that comes a lot of pressure to perform.
“The impact is going to be massive.”