In the moments after Hideki Matsuyama’s historic Masters win, you could have forgiven him a moment of unbridled emotion, both in celebration of his first major win and recognition of the weight of his accomplishment.
But despite becoming Japan’s first winner at the Masters — and of any of men’s golf’s major tournaments — it wasn’t Matsuyama’s reaction that most caught the eye.
Footage soon emerged of the new champion’s caddy Shota Hayafuji alone on the 18th green, well away from the fanfare surrounding Matsuyama.
Without seeking to attract any attention to himself, Hayafuji placed the flagstick back in the hole, removed his cap, and bowed to the course upon which he and Matsuyama had just enjoyed their greatest day.
Simple, respectful and understated, it summed up Matsuyama’s reaction to finally achieving what would have been a lifelong dream. While the 18th green at Augusta has become a site of jubilation over the years, here it was one of relief and reflection.
When Adam Scott had his moment in 2013, doing for Australia what Matsuyama did today for Japan, he couldn’t contain himself, at one point bellowing “come on Aussie” to nobody in particular before celebrating wildly with caddy Steve Williams.
But Matsuyama was instead as unflappable in victory as he had been on the course.
“My nerves didn’t start at the second nine, it was right from the start all the way to the last putt,” Matsuyama said in Butler Cabin shortly before receiving his green jacket from 2020 champion Dustin Johnson.
“Hopefully I’ll be a pioneer and many other Japanese will follow. Hopefully I will open the floodgates.”
Matsuyama and Hayafuji shared an embrace once the winning putt had fallen, and the 29-year-old received congratulations from American Xander Schauffele, who had briefly threatened to rain on Matsuyama’s parade.
Indeed, the only significant pressure Matsuyama faced during the final round came on the 15th hole, where he flew the green and found water, before scrambling to make a bogey.
But having made a birdie to cut the lead to two, Schauffele immediately hit his tee shot into the water at the par-three 16th, recorded a triple bogey and blew out of contention. From that point on, the day was unequivocally Matsuyama’s.
It may have taken some time, but in the fading light on the Augusta National lawn, Matsuyama finally allowed himself a flicker of emotion.
With the green jacket back around his shoulders again, and dozens of cameras in his face, Matsuyama allowed a wide smile to take over his face as he raised his arms above his head in triumph.