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Nov. 09, 2021

What changed and what remained the same after Hideki Matsuyama won the Masters

Text by Sonoko Funakoshi

Ever since Hideki Matsuyama conquered the Masters in 2021, the number of tweets related to him has been significantly rising on Twitter. Matsuyama was already recognized by everyone as one of Japan's leading golf players before he won the Masters. However, why did tweets about him suddenly increase after he won the Masters?

According to Nazuki no Oto, NTT DATA's Twitter analysis tool, there was a total of 307,769 tweets in Japanese and English about Matsuyama on April 12th, 2021, the day he won the Masters for the first time in Japan. This is the largest number of tweets about Matsuyama, and the second largest was 37,574 on August 1st, 2021, the last day of the men's golf in the Tokyo Olympics. *1

Tiger Woods tweeted about Matsuyama winning the Masters. 70% of the tweets from overseas were from North America, but also Niall Horan from the British band, One Direction, reacted saying.

Originally, Matsuyama used to be described as "serious," "self-disciplined," "perfectionist," etc., both in Japan and in the USA.

He takes golf very seriously, always pushes himself to the limit, and holds a high standard for himself—I think many people saw Matsuyama in this light.

In fact, many stories in the past show that Matsuyama is indeed a serious and self-disciplined person. For example, Matsuyama's coach, Yasuhiko Abe, head coach of the Tohoku Fukushi University golf team, revealed that "Hideki never goes sightseeing even when abroad." He explained that ever since Matsuyama was an amateur university student, he would always prioritize practice and training over sightseeing and would avoid visiting tourist attractions saying, "No, thanks."

However, Matsuyama actually does have a fun side. One time when he first started challenging the US tour in 2013, he took out his flashy smartphone covered with the design of a symbolic building at the place where the match takes place and showed it to me.

"What do you think? It's great, right?"

When playing several matches during the US tour, other players often go to a Japanese restaurant in each area for dinner. However, for Matsuyama, since his early days in the US, he has visited inexpensive restaurant chains that are widely available and accessible all across the US to try American food, such as pancakes and hamburgers.

Matsuyama would not speak a lot of English in public, but when he would go to one of these American restaurants, "Hideki would willingly try to practice ordering in English," said Mr. Bob Turner, Matsuyama's interpreter and manager. Thanks to this, Matsuyama's English improved very quickly. It did not take Matsuyama long to be able to talk to the rule committee on his own during matches.

Matsuyama is friendly and unpretentious. He is flexible and able to adapt to change. He is fun and has a great spirit of challenge. However, Matsuyama's personality was not very known in the past. If anything, he immediately gave off the impression that he was difficult to approach.

Maybe Matsuyama himself was acting formal, or maybe he did not have the capacity because he was desperate. That is why, looking back, I feel that Matsuyama's iron mask was not something that he created deliberately.

However, from the moment Matsuyama conquered the Masters in 2021 and was awarded Japan's and Asia's first men's major championship, his true self started showing just a little.

After winning the Masters, he started speaking his mind more

Wearing his green jacket in the medal ceremony, Matsuyama raised his hand with enthusiasm and cried, "Thank you! Thank you!" with a big smile on his face. I had never seen Matsuyama hooraying like that before. It was also my first time seeing him cry, "Thank you!" repeatedly like that.

I think after seeing Matsuyama let go and show his joy, many people found it unexpected and realized that he has a rather adorable side.

Although he never used to talk about his tactics or thoughts, he started doing so a little after his victory. Matsuyama also gave his honest, yet humble words on the reflection and response he felt when he had a swing coach assigned to him for the first time.

"(In the past,) I couldn't tell what I was doing wrong on my own and just followed my feelings. I was overconfident. Now that I train with a coach, I am able to move forward in the right direction as he watches me from an objective perspective."

His words showed that despite being stubborn and insisting to be on his own, Matsuyama also had his weaknesses and struggles and that he was relieved to have his coach as a partner.

When Matsuyama's caddie, Shota Hayafuji, bowed to the course on the 18th green, it attracted a great deal of attention from the Western golf world, putting the spotlight on Mr. Turner and on Team Matsuyama. The relationships between Matsuyama and everyone in his team were reported one after another, allowing people to know more about Matsuyama's warmth of his personality, which they did not get to see up until then.

According to Nazuki no Oto, NTT DATA's Twitter analysis tool, many posts, 44,833 posts from Japan and 26,456 posts from overseas, about Matsuyama included words like "Team" and "Caddie." Looking at the ratios, in Japan, the number of the words "Masters" and "#gohideki" was relatively higher, but overseas, the words "Caddie" and "Green jacket" were the majority. Especially, Caddie Shota Hayafuji's actions blew up overseas more than they did in Japan. *2

As a result, Matsuyama's "world," which seemed very far away up until then, felt a little closer, and an increasing number of his fans developed an affinity for him.

No matter how much in a hurry he is, he would always interact with young children

Having said that, no matter how much Matsuyama's image changes, his roots will never change. Especially, the way he has always been kind to shy young children will probably never change while he is a professional golfer.

When there are young children in the line of fans waiting for an autograph in the match venue, Matsuyama always interacts with them no matter how much in a hurry he is.

At the Open Championship shortly after Matsuyama became a professional player, there was a very shy local young boy accompanied by who appeared to be his grandfather. He shyly cried, "Hideki!" from the other side of the path. Matsuyama ran to him by himself, crossing the path, and handed him a ball with his autograph on it.

Amongst the noise at the Phoenix Open Pro-Am tournament in the US tour, Matsuyama was able to hear a young American girl repeatedly crying, "Matsuyama" in a fading frail voice from meters away. He went up to her, gave her his autograph, shook her hand, and agreed to take a commemorative photo with her. The audience was watching this with a smile and started applauding him. Matsuyama smiled happily.

If Matsuyama's natural kindness and true personality continue to be recognized by more people and become a topic on social media in the future, it will bring him closer to people even as he keeps climbing higher and higher as a top player. In fact, after Matsuyama won the Masters, young women who had probably not been interested in golf until then are now cheering for Matsuyama.

Matsuyama is already becoming everyone's star.

Of the 35,184 users who spoke about Matsuyama before he won the Masters, 2,595 (7.4%) had "golf" or "golf" on their profiles, but of the 226,446 users who spoke about Matsuyama after he won, 8,066 (3.6%) had "golf" or "golf" on their profiles. The demographic that was not interested in golf up until then also seemed to become interested in golf after Matsuyama's victory.
Moreover, there were 24,932 tweets about Matsuyama during the Zozo Championship that took place from October 21st to 24th. *3

*1, 2
Analysis period: (Japanese) January 2011–August 2021, (English) September 2020–August 2021
Analysis target: Tweets that include "Hideki Matsuyama," "Player Matsuyama," “gohideki”, “matsuyama AND hideki”, “hideki AND golf”
Analysis period: (Japanese and English) October 21, 2021– October 24, 2021
Analysis target: Tweets that include "Hideki Matsuyama," "Player Matsuyama," “gohideki”, “matsuyama AND hideki”, “hideki AND golf”