Hideki Matsuyama has a cult following on Twitter and elsewhere for a reason. It’s because when he hits the ball with a golf club that is not a putter, it is often the sexiest thing in the world of golf.
You may not know much about Matsuyama, other than he’s a fine good golfer that has shown up on a major championship leaderboard or two. He’s not hyped week-to-week like Rickie Fowler or Dustin Johnson or Rory McIlroy or Jordan Spieth. The 24-year-old Japanese phenom has not won a major, but he can hang with any of them on a week-to-week basis.
Sure, the putter can get a little sideways and that’s prevented him from winning a major, or maybe more. He’s not a big bomber with quite the power off the tee of a DJ or Rory. But the ball-striking display he puts on is nonpareil. He’s the master of the “straight ball” ProTracer image. It’s so good that it keeps him in majors, near the top of those most important leaderboards of the season, even when his putting dips into negative territory in the indispensable strokes gained statistic (he won Jack Nicklaus’ typically loaded Memorial Tournament in 2014 with negative sg-putting).
This talent overwhelmed the WGC-HSBC Champions this week in Shanghai, where a field with most of those aforementioned higher-profile contemporaries could not keep up -- they could not come close. Matsuyama rolled to a seven-shot win, the largest margin on Tour since the first week of January when Spieth won in Maui by eight. He became the first Asian player to win a WGC, the biggest win of a career that is going to have many more, and more important victories on the horizon.
Matsuyama went 66-65-68-66 over four days at Sheshan International, posting a 23-under that left second-place Henrik Stenson and Daniel Berger (16-under) in the dust. There was no drama at the end, or even the entire weekend, but that didn’t mean it was not worth watching the middle-of-the-night broadcast back in the States. Matsuyama was there, with his shotmaking that prompts you to yelp out loud in awe.
This shot pretty much sums up the week.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) October 30, 2016
Players have hit it well ... Hideki's just been better.#QuickHits https://t.co/x19TQtKcwR
Even with that shaky putter, Matsuyama went the final 45 holes without a bogey. You’re not supposed to get to 23-under at WGC events but if Hideki can just hold the line — not excel — with his putter, few have a chance to beat him.
This is technically a new season on the PGA Tour, which begins its “wraparound schedule” in mid-October with seven fall events. The last two winners, Matsuyama and Justin Thomas, were more of these 20-somethings that we expect a lot from in 2017 and beyond. The narrative will take root again whether you want it to or not.
While it may have been the middle of the night for the U.S. audience, the twitter cult of Hideki had something early in the season worth freaking out about. The promise of Matusyama was in full view and a WGC win should just be the beginning.