Column: Matsuyama goes from inspiration to Masters champion

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Hideki Matsuyama, of Japan, waves after winning the Masters golf tournament on Sunday, April 11, 2021, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The idea was to create golfing heroes, not necessarily a Masters champion.

Hideki Matsuyama is now both.

“I owe a deep debt of gratitude to the members of Augusta National,” Matsuyama said on the night before he became Japan's first Masters champion. “Because I wouldn't be here today without them.”

The seed was planted in February 2009, when Tiger Woods was a major champion for the fourth straight year and players from all but one continent where golf is played were represented among the top 15 in the world ranking. The exception was Asia.

Billy Payne, chairman of Augusta National at the time, flew to Hong Kong with then-R&A chief Peter Dawson to announce a new tournament — the Asia-Pacific Amateur — for amateurs across a region they felt was teeming with potential.

They wanted to use the powerful brand of the Masters and the deep heritage of the British Open to make golf more appealing to the next generation.

"It became obvious fairly quickly that the place we could impact the most would be throughout Asia,” Payne said that day. “We thought if we could identify good golfers and create heroes who would be emulated by other kids, in the process they would be attracted to the game.”

Matsuyama played the second edition of the Asia-Pacific Amateur in 2010 at Kasumigaseki Country Club about an hour outside Tokyo, the host course of the Olympics this year. He won by five shots.