TOP 30 PLAYERS TO WATCH
No. 5: Hideki Matsuyama
Despite a three-win season, he still has big goals to chase
December 26, 2017
Hideki Matsuyama shoots 61 en route to victory at Bridgestone
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
Timing can be critical in sports.
Hideki Matsuyama had a sensational season in 2016-17, but his timing was just a little off. He hopes to get things more on point this season.
He opened last season with a runner-up finish at the CIMB Classic, won the World Golf Championships–HSBC Champions, was runner-up at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and soon after won the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
He was also a winner in Japan (and also won the 2016 Hero World Challenge during the holiday break).
It had him as one of the men to beat in the race for the FedExCup all season long -- despite the fact he cooled off for a section of time.
He fired back up again for the U.S. Open where he was second before a T14 at the Open Championship and then a third win of the season at the World Golf Championships–Bridgestone Invitational had him well and truly primed for the final major of the year.
Come Sunday at the PGA Championship, Matsuyama appeared headed to becoming Japan’s first ever major winner, but instead it was American and eventual FedExCup winner Justin Thomas who claimed his first.
In a case of bad timing, the loss hit Matsuyama hard and he became a virtual passenger in the FedExCup Playoffs despite opening the series as the top seed.
By the end of the TOUR Championship, he had dropped to eighth.
Why are we dragging the past back up? Because this season Matsuyama is focused on maximizing his energy.
Can he maintain his peaks longer throughout the year or if not, can he time his peaks and valleys to coincide with the big events and the Playoffs?
That’s his hope.
We easily forget he is part of the youth brigade at just 25 because he’s been playing majors since he was 19.
His ongoing battles with Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Co. should be enthralling stuff.
BY THE NUMBERS
How Hideki Matsuyama ranked in Strokes Gained statistics during his last full season on the PGA TOUR.
Current 2017-18 position: 66th
Playoff appearances: 4
TOUR Championship appearances: 4
Best result: 8th (2017)
INSIGHTS FROM THE INSIDERS
PGATOUR.COM’s Insiders offer their expert views on what to expect from Hideki Matsuyama in 2018.
TOUR INSIDER by Cameron Morfit
If he putts well, Matsuyama is close to unbeatable. Consider his 3-and-1 takedown of Justin Thomas at the Presidents Cup at Liberty National, where despite a deflating week for the International Team, Matsuyama had eight made or conceded birdies and an eagle. Who’s going to beat that? But that putter comes and goes, and Matsuyama can look strangely ordinary, as when he followed up opening rounds of 70-64 with rounds of 73-72 at the PGA Championship. No Japanese male player has won a major, and it will be interesting to watch Matsuyama take on that mental hurdle the next time around.
FANTASY INSIDER by Rob Bolton
Despite three wins and as many runner-up finishes last season, the 25-year-old from Japan evolved into an enigma of sorts. It became comical at how often he duped television viewers with pessimistic body language as his ball flew to one terrific result after another. We can't rule out a level of expectation with which we are not familiar and we're not going to complain about it. However, when he cited in November that "there's a huge gap between" Dunlop Phoenix champion Brooks Koepka and himself (after finishing a distant fifth), it's fair to consider that rhetoric similarly as a visceral reaction to one of his flagstick-covering approaches. Yet, Matsuyama's results accurately portrayed fatigue that he cited during a lackluster FedExCup Playoffs. All told, full-season salary gamers weren't buying at $8.38 million, anyway, and the rest of us will assume that he'll be just fine even though components of his self-doubt seem strange.
EQUIPMENT INSIDER by Jonathan Wall
Matsuyama alternates between a TaylorMade M2 Tour 3-iron and Honma TW727 U19 hybrid depending on course conditions. Recorded wins last season with Srixon's Z945 and Z965 irons. Swapped his "ace" Scotty Cameron Newport 2 GSS Timeless putter for a TaylorMade TP Collection Mullen at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational; he eventually went back to the Cameron (also used a Cameron mallet along the way).
STYLE INSIDER by Greg Monteforte
Matsuyama isn’t afraid of making a statement with bold color blocking, modern geometric prints, and bright colors. When executed well, he is one of the eye-catching dressers on TOUR. When his colors and patterns fall out of balance, though, his outfits can look confusing. A less is more approach will serve Hideki well in 2018.