A tradition unlike any other was met with a winner unlike any other Sunday in Augusta, Georgia, and in the end, we were all victorious.
Well, all of us at home watching anyway. As for those that chased — and largely crumbled — behind eventual winner Hideki Matsuyama, not so much.
In case you were under a rock — or got lost in a Menard’s, which I nearly did this weekend — Matsuyama became the first Japanese golfer to win a major championship, doing so at the Masters on Sunday. It was a great moment for sports as Matsuyama, carrying the weight of a golf-crazed country still awaiting its first major champion, came through.
It wasn’t necessarily beautiful. Matsuyama carded a 1-over-par 73 on Sunday to finish at 10 under four the tournament, using up all four shots of cushion he’d earned in Saturday’s third round to hold off Will Zalatoris by a single shot.
Zalatoris, a 6-foot-2, 165-pound, 24-year-old Masters rookie was certainly a big part of the story. Approximately as wide as one of Bryson DeChambeau’s legs, Zalatoris largely put on a ball-striking clinic around a course that is notoriously one of local and earned knowledge.
I can appreciate Matsuyama’s win. Outside of an errant shot that bounded into the water on the 15th, Matsuyama played a round befitting a champion, and one that was largely defensive. He did what he had to do.
His caddie turned to the 18th fairway and bowed, a moment that will likely be replayed for years. A player who once seemed destined for major glory and yet had to fight through unexpected struggles for the past few years, going 1,344 days between wins. And to come through on the biggest of stages? Pretty cool.
But in full transparency, I was pulling for another player. I have to admit, since covering his first PGA Tour win at The Greenbrier in 2017, I’ve been a bit of a Xander Schauffele fan. I just liked the way he handled himself that day and his seemingly calm and even-keeled demeanor on the course.
Yet again, Schauffele found himself with a golden opportunity, and there have been plenty throughout his career. This year’s Masters marked the 15th appearance in a major for Schauffele. In those tournaments, the 27-year-old has piled up six top-five finishes, eight top-10s and 11 top-20s, missing the cut just once.
It’s a remarkable track record for the 2017 Rookie of the Year and Tour Champion, the only player to ever win both in the same season. And one that clearly points to an eventual major champion, right? Right?!
Maybe, but nothing in golf is guaranteed. Just ask Matsuyama, who had four wins across 2016 and 2017 and seemed like a guaranteed winner as well. It took awhile and, since then, Matsuyama hadn’t finished above a tie for 13th in a major. Until Sunday.
It’s what we love about major championships. There are no guarantees. Consider Rickie Fowler didn’t even qualify for this year’s Masters. Remember when he was a can’t-miss future major champion?
So do I.
Jordan Spieth just underwent a victory drought that was exactly one week longer than Matsuyama’s at 1,351 days, also dating to 2017. Rory McIlroy hasn’t won a major championship in seven years. Players like Justin Rose, Louis Oosthuizen, Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott, all guys that have loomed near the top of major-championship leaderboards over the last decade-plus, have just one major win apiece.
You’ve heard the saying, “golf is hard.” Take it from a bi-weekly hacker, getting a ball in the air is often difficult. Winning majors, beating fields full of the best players from around the world, is like trying to find something Menard’s doesn’t sell. Trust me, it’s about impossible.
Matsuyama did it while carrying the weight of an entire country. He did it while snapping a personal losing streak on one of the toughest courses in the world at arguably the most prestigious event. He did it over a mix of guys that included the rookie phenom Zalatoris, the long-overdue Schauffele, the decorated and resurgent Spieth and the veteran Rose.
As for Schauffele, it was another in a mental scrapbook of painful major moments. Standing on the 16th tee, having just whittled Matsuyama’s lead down to two strokes and with all the momentum in the world, Schauffele dunked it in the water, triple-bogeyed and cost himself a possible victory and a whole lot of dough.
I’d like to say it’s just a matter of time, but in golf, it never necessarily is.
But after Sunday, it’s certainly Matsuyama’s time, and it was party time, for the first time, in Japan.