Japan Rejoices at Augusta


Gregory Bull/AP

Hideki Matsuyama donning the green jacket as Masters champion

Josh Musser, Staff Writer

Rejoice- what many golf loyalists felt when The Masters returned to Augusta in its normal April slot this spring. Many expected a repeat from 2020’s champion, Dustin Johnson, who took the jacket in an unusual November showing of golf’s most magical championship. While reigning U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau opened with the second-best odds, another popular pick was 2015 Masters champ Jordan Spieth, who was having a sort of resurgence in 2021, coming off a victory at the Valero Texas Open a week prior. This year’s showing of the tournament saw something never seen before; the Masters’ first African American player Lee Elder joined Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as an honorary starter. Although unable to tee off due to his physical condition, his presence was enough to make the entire crowd applaud. His Masters’ appearance was one of the most monumental to pave the way for minorities at Augusta, especially with later minority champions such as Vijay Singh and 5-time winner Tiger Woods.
To the aroma of the blooming azaleas, Thursday’s round one was underway. A familiar face around Augusta stormed out and took the lead with a first-round 65; Justin Rose has had previous success at the Masters with 2 runner-up finishes, but to no avail for the jacket. Rose began his day shooting 2 over par for the first 7 holes, while fast green conditions along with a swirling breeze made it tough for the players. Nonetheless, he surged forward on the next 10 holes with a 9 under par performance. He followed up his Thursday performance with a second-round 72, enough to keep the lead by one. A big name over the first 2 rounds to struggle was the strong-willed Brooks Koepka. A four-time major champion recently coming off of knee surgery, Brooks never found his stride, especially on the greens, and missed the cut after shooting a combined 149 over two rounds. A definite shock was the poor performance of defending champion Dustin Johnson. Although he birdied 8 holes, he had an abysmal 9 bogeys along with two double bogeys on his way to missing the cut.
There is no more pivotal day at The Masters than “moving day” Saturday, which happened to be no more evident than this year’s round. After coming into Saturday with a one-shot lead, Justin Rose shot 72 to see himself in tied 2nd. An unfamiliar name to emerge into tied 2nd is one with the likes of Will Zalatoris- the 24-year-old who is not an official member of the PGA Tour, entered his first-ever week at Augusta with no PGA Tour wins and was ranked 500th in the World Golf Ranking only a year ago. “I’ve wanted to be in this position my entire life,” said Zalatoris. “I don’t need to shy away from it now. I’ve made it this far. Why now be timid? I thought I did a really good job of enjoying the moment but not letting it get to me, too.”

Will Zalatoris during his 3rd round (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The blonde-haired California kid shot a 68 and 71 in rounds 2 and 3 to see himself right in the mix for the jacket. While comparisons hit social media to the caddy in Adam Sandler’s Happy Gilmore, many also took notice of his unmistakable sense of confidence over the weekend. “Seeing Zalatoris play and play well was very cool to me,” says CJ Brennan (10). “I remember turning the masters on and seeing a player in contention who looked no older than a senior in high school. Not only is this guy relatively young, but he is in a featured group for the masters, which is really impressive. I think his confidence had a huge role in how he ended and how he played, he never second-guessed his shots, and he never second-guessed his confidence.”
Although impressive, no performance was topped on Saturday by that of Hideki Matsuyama’s. The man from Japan shot an incredible 65 with four birdies and an eagle along the way to a four-shot lead heading into Sunday’s final round. On Sunday’s first stroke from the leader, it was evident Japan’s potential first Master’s winner was feeling the nerves. He dropped one shot off his lead with a bogey on the first hole. Nonetheless, it was back to smooth sailing in no time for the leader. While Zalatoris hung around the entire day, Hideki’s lead was no real threat until the dreaded Sunday back 9. A shot right at the green saw Hideki hit the water on 15 and opened the door to his final pair mate Xander Schauffele, who birdied the hole to bring the lead down to 2 heading to 16. The tension was short-lived. Schauffele saw his tee shot land in the water, being one of the first players in contention to do so since the “Shark” Greg Norman did so in 1996. After Schauffele went on to triple bogey on the 16th, it effectively icing on the cake for Matsuyama. On the ten-year anniversary of his showing as Best Amateur at Augusta in 2011, the man from Japan closed out the last two holes to take the jacket by one shot over Will Zalatoris. In his trip to Butler Cabin to receive his green jacket as Japan’s first major champion, Hideki needed no translator to express himself. “I’m really happy.”