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Jan. 27, 2023

Lessons from Matsuyama for the next generation: What it takes to "challenge the world"

Hideki Matsuyama, who started playing golf seriously at four, had a chance encounter with a legend from the professional golf scene when he was in elementary school. Isao Aoki, the first Japanese player to win a PGA Tour championship more than a decade earlier, was visiting a golf course in Matsuyama’s hometown in Ehime Prefecture to practice during the off-season.

Matsuyama, a slight young golfer at that time, watched Aoki hit the ball with eager curiosity and had the opportunity to walk alongside him while he played. The skillful wedge shot that Aoki delivered that day was imprinted in Matsuyama’s mind and remains a clear memory today. That chance encounter turned out to be a fateful one as Matsuyama would follow in Aoki’s footsteps in the pro golfing world.

You can imagine how excited the children were when they saw the superstar in front of them. Over time, Matsuyama himself has become an inspiration—young, aspirational golfers who meet Matsuyama today feel just like Matsuyama did when he met Aoki all those years ago. And so Matsuyama created an opportunity for young golfers to do just that.

At a driving range in Tokyo on Saturday, December 17
Be Global, Be Challenge was an event sponsored by NTT DATA for the children who will lead the future.
Golf lessons and interactive sessions were held for teenagers from all over Japan to convey “the importance of continuing to take on the world.” These were held by none other than Matsuyama, who continues to take on new challenges, following an unrelenting practice schedule reflecting his strong desire for improvement and high level of skill, in pursuit of an ambitious goal to win all four PGA Major Golf Tournament events. His strong ambition and dedication struck a chord with NTT DATA and inspired us to organize this event. Matsuyama gave each of the teens a lesson and Kazuhiro Nishihata, Senior Executive Vice President and Representative Director of NTT DATA, gave a talk on global talent, sharing how NTT DATA, much like Matsuyama, is striving to be a member of the global community.

This was Matsuyama’s first opportunity to give public lessons for teens, and he made sure those lessons were special. The Masters Tournament champion coached each of the 22 juniors individually, giving them the chance to practice hitting balls and to speak directly with Matsuyama.

The teens were nervous, and who could blame them? But Matsuyama was as interested in hearing about their ideas and ambitions as he was in teaching them.

The teens all made it clear that they wanted to improve, expressing disappointment that they could not hit the ball very far, or that they choked when they were nervous, or that they could not get much spin on their approach shot.

Matsuyama would always turn the teens’ questions back to them: “Why do you think it’s not going well?”

With the experience and knowledge that Matsuyama has gained by playing in the world’s most prestigious golf tournament—the PGA Tour for almost a decade, he would have been able to come up with solutions as soon as he saw the teens’ swings and movements. But he knew that a quick fix to a specific issue wasn’t the best use of the short time he had with each player. Instead, he encouraged them to think for themselves about how they could improve.

At the driving range, one teen asked Matsuyama about the purpose of one-handed hitting practice. Matsuyama explained that he had also wondered why an elite player would be told to work on something like that. But once he tried it, he soon realized the role each hand plays in a swing. As he continued this practice, his shots naturally improved, and so did his approach.

One golfer who was about 16 said she wanted to hit the ball hard with her iron. Looking at her style, Matsuyama asked whether she wanted to see results immediately or if she was willing to take time to work on her technique. She said she was happy to take time to perfect her skills, so Matsuyama gave her advice tailored to the goal she had in mind.

Matsuyama also gave distinctive advice to a well-built junior high school student struggling to perfect his driver shots. When he saw the teen’s powerful swing—this boy sent balls flying further than 300 yards—Matsuyama advised him not to worry about perfecting where the ball landed just yet. Considering the boy’s age, he said, for now it was best to focus on trying to send the ball even further down the range.

Matsuyama generally dislikes the one-size-fits-all advice presented in the media. Just as not all people have the same face, not all golfers are the same; they differ in generation, gender, physique, athleticism, way of thinking and goals. So, at the very least, Matsuyama wanted to meet the teens at their level and give attention to the issues each of them were facing.

During the event’s talk session, Matsuyama addressed the event’s main topic, “The importance of continuing to take on the world,” by speaking about how he felt winning the Masters Tournament and his experience competing in various parts of the US while on tour.

Competing in a country where the culture and language were completely different was a scary, lonely experience for Matsuyama, and he says that remembering what he wanted to achieve was essential in order to keep going. He faced every day with determination, cool-headed analysis of each situation, and a solid understanding of how things were going.

“Think about what you’re working towards now,” he says. “The kind of practice you need to do depends on what you need to work on. For example, there are many different ways to stretch. Nowadays, you can look up many things on your smartphone, even how to swing. But rather than indiscriminately taking in all this information, I believe it is more important to consider why it is necessary for you and follow through with action. That includes the things I have told you today—you don’t have to do exactly what I’ve said. What I want you to do is think about why I’ve said these things to you.”

Matsuyama can be proud of the fact that throughout his 10-year career as a professional athlete, he has put all his energy into his beloved golf and brought a larger-than-life attitude to the game. The message the Masters Tournament champion wants to pass on to the future generation, more than anything else, is that it’s not just about how to hit the ball. “In golf, and in anything else you do, you have to keep thinking,” he says.