Matsuyama wins the Masters; Zalatoris nearly steals the show

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Hideki Matsuyama won his first major on Sunday (and first major for a Japanese male golfer) with almost flawless iron play and by scrambling better than everyone else in the field. While maybe not quite the “Best player never to have won a major”, Hideki has often been in the conversation. His win looks like a natural progression of lots of hard work and not just a flash in the pan. What was your take on his Masters victory?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I think you hit the nail on the head… “a natural progression of hard work”.  I was really hoping that Justin Rose could post 3 70’s and win by 5 or so, but by the middle of Saturday afternoon, it was pretty clear that wasn’t gonna happen.  And of course, I was rooting like crazy for Corey Conners, but ya just kinda knew that wasn’t gonna happen either.  When Hideki pulled ahead on Saturday, I was thinking, well, it WOULD be nice for an Asian to finally win at Augusta, ESPECIALLY after all the Asian hate that’s come out of the woodwork in America in the last couple of months.  Hideki played almost flawless golf, as you say, and he was a very deserving winner.  It was a very good Masters, if not a great one.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): I thought Hideki played great, got’r up and down when he needed to, and made some timely chickens on Saturday and Sunday. Short game, chipping specifically, was off the charts good, which took some pressure of the rest of his game, especially putting. I’m happy for him and also what it means for golf in Japan. They just may be more golf crazed than us Canadians.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: I thought he played like a champion. Every part of his game was an A- to A. He didn’t dazzle anyone with 40 yd pitch-ins for par, 375 yd tee shots or irons to one foot. He simply played solid championship golf. I loved the fact that when asked “When did you think you had it won” he said, “After my drive on 18”! Stay tuned, there’s more to come.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): That was a great victory and I’m happy for Hideki.  It’s great for him, for Japan, and for the game of golf.  He’s been an incredible talent since he burst onto the scene as low amateur at the Masters a decade ago and has shown some flashes of brilliance along the way.  I was surprised to hear that he hadn’t won an event since 2017.  He has often been in contention, with seven Top 10’s in Majors before this breakthrough victory.  I think that this opens the doors for him to rack up a few more big wins to solidify himself as the best Asian golfer of all time.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Not a huge surprise that Hideki finally won a major. He’s that good and it was just a matter of time until all the pieces came together. I expect it may not be the only one he wins either. He showed great poise on Sunday and hung tough even though he was carrying the weight of a nation on his shoulders. So many Masters turn on a mistake or bad shot and reward patience. Hideki for the most part avoided the kind of tragedy that befell others. It was a Masterful performance.

Speaking of flashes, young Will Zalatoris made things interesting on Sunday and ensured that Matsuyama didn’t just coast to victory. For four days, everyone on TV seemed to be waiting for Zalatoris to crack but he never did. He hits the ball a mile, has a wonderful short game and even a casual, engaging manner in front of the cameras. He looks like a future rock star on the PGA Tour. Do you think he’s the real deal?

Deeks: Hard to say yet if he’s the real deal, but the Tour could certainly use a new, California-blonde, surfer dude to cuddle, and for teenage girls to pin up on their walls.  Rickie Fowler was the IT boy for a good while, but his game has never measured up to its expectations, and the all-orange and all-lime outfits have been relegated to the basement, along with his chances at major stardom.  So, for the good of American golf, bring it on, Will!  He’s got game, charm, and (evidently) a 24-inch waste that every guy would like to have.

Loughry:  Will has grinded his way to where he is, and that generally means he’ll be here to stay and not just a flash. I really enjoyed watching him play, he no doubt won over some fans from his play this week.

Schurman: He really looked good and a nice fresh addition to the various storylines we have watched over the past 25 years. Phil, Tiger, Spieth, DJ have grown a little boring and so have the stories about some 4-year-old who is going to become the next Tiger Woods. Zalatoris just sort of popped up from nowhere.

Rule: I’ll admit, I didn’t think he could stay in contention on Sunday, but that was impressive to say the least.  His demeanour on and off the course is something to admire, and it makes me think he’ll be around for the long run.  But of course, golf is a fickle game, and it’s hard to stay at or near the top.  He’s got all the tools; we’ll have to wait to see if he can be competitive on a regular basis.  I hope he does, he’s good for the game.

Mumford: He sure looks like the real thing. Every year the Masters seems to push some unknown onto the leaderboard and give him way too much TV time. Then comes a Saturday or Sunday crash and afterwards the lad can barely get a notice in his hometown paper. Zalatoris didn’t crash; in fact, he flourished under the Masters glare and seemed to relish the attention. There’s something very appealing about Will Zalatoris in both his game and his personality that will resonate with golf fans and sponsors. I predict we’ll see a lot of him, on leaderboards and in commercials.

Many have commented that Matsuyama’s victory was made easier by not having a throng of elites chasing him. With the exception of Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose, who were never really in contention on Sunday and Jon Rahm who showed up late to the party, most of the other big names were either way back or gone. Rory, DJ, Sergio, Brooks Koepka and Lee Westwood all missed the cut while Justin Thomas shot himself in the foot and Bryson DeChambeau dialled in a faulty game plan. Apart from Koepka who had a real excuse, we just saw a lot of poor play from a lot of great golfers that also have plenty of experience at Augusta National. Is this just what the Masters does to even the best players in the world or is there another reason?

Deeks: I think the stars get so overwrought with playing to their expectations and winning that they forget to tie up their shoelaces and end up tripping over themselves when it comes to The Masters. That’s why you’ll get the Trevor Immelmans and Danny Willetts and Charl Schwartzels pulling off victory at Augusta: i.e., because they have no expectations going in.  And why you’ll have Rory duck-hooking himself out of victory (forever?), and even Seve rinsing his ball in the pond on 15 the year Jack won his last.  Sure, Spieth and DJ have won in recent years, but they were both playing at the apex of their powers at the time, and almost couldn’t fail.  I seriously doubt they’ll ever win at Augusta again, because they’ll be trying so hard.  But that’s one of the great things about Augusta: you can’t count anyone out who’s in the field.  As much as the best player wins, it’s also the player who can most effectively keep his nerves intact, and his focus on the next shot, not the Butler Cabin speech.  Hideki did that.

Loughry: The messy golf that week and final round can be attributable to Augusta National and The Masters tournament. The carnage happens, its historical, Greg Norman, Scott Hoch, the list is long. It’s not Matsuyama’s fault others crumbled, he played the best and will be remembered for it.

Schurman: Give a little credit to the golf course. Finally, we saw a real major championship test in Augusta. It’s unfortunate the rain came on Saturday. Imagine the scuttlebutt around various Green Committee Meetings who have either recently upgraded their irrigation system or are planning to at great cost to make their greens emerald in colour only to find out ‘brown’ is the new green. Some of the ‘bad’ we witnessed was a result of small galleries. Normally, shots like Hideki over the back of #18 on Saturday would have been much easier after being halted by the fans. Several players hit shots long, left on #17 which cost them dearly because there were no fans – a scene that repeated itself over and over around the course. Spieth hit some of his out-of-control PWs into positions even he couldn’t negotiate because there was nobody to stop them.

Rule: It was surprising, and a bit disappointing, to see the big names falter this year.  But it’s a major championship, it’s not easy for anyone not named Tiger in his prime.  I do think that the victory was made a bit easier by not having a big name chasing him, and not having the large crowds that could send messages to Hideki of a big birdie or eagle up ahead.

Mumford: Augusta National is hard, with little room for error. If a player’s game is not spot on, it doesn’t take much to turn a poor shot into a horrible result. Witness all the triples by players that should know better. Augusta presents risky options and rewards great shots but also doles out huge penalties for sloppy play. The pressure of trying to win a green jacket is also immense. Rory McIlroy has much higher expectations than does Will Zalatoris. So do Sergio, Brooks, DJ and other elite players and past champions. Nobody is playing for second place, so maybe they’re all pushing a little harder than normal, especially if they’re playing catch-up. It’s part of what makes the Masters the best of all the majors.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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