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Hideki Matsuyama by the numbers

5 Min Read

Stats Report

Diving into the stats behind his groundbreaking success

    Written by Justin Ray, @JustinRayGolf

    Hideki Matsuyama’s Round 4 highlights from ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP

    When Hideki Matsuyama became the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world in 2012, he was the first player from Asia to reach the milestone.

    A slice of Matsuyama’s influence on the sport since – both in his native Japan and around the globe – is evidenced in that same World Amateur Golf Ranking. This week, Taiga Semikawa is the No. 1 amateur in the men’s game – the third different WAGR No. 1 from Japan in the last three years. As the most prolific PGA TOUR winner all-time from Japan (eight wins) and the country’s first men’s major champion, Matsuyama’s impact on growing the sport’s popularity might be fully seen in the burgeoning wave of talent to follow.

    Matsuyama will look to successfully defend a PGA TOUR title for the second time in his career this week at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP.

    A better approach

    The hallmark statistical trait of Matsuyama’s game has always been his stellar approach play. In 2021-22, Matsuyama ranked sixth on the PGA TOUR in Strokes Gained: Approach per round, the eighth time in his career he has finished a season ranked inside the top-10 on TOUR in that statistic. That’s tied for the most seasons ranked in the top-10 in SG: Approach since tracking began in 2004, alongside Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk.

    There are more than 470 players who have accumulated 125 measured rounds or more in the PGA TOUR ShotLink era, which began in 2004. Of that group, only six have averaged more Strokes Gained: Approach per round than Matsuyama (+0.74 per round). Just four players have had 500 or more rounds measured by ShotLink and averaged 0.70 Strokes Gained: Approach per round or more: Matsuyama, Furyk, Paul Casey and Justin Thomas.

    When Matsuyama is at his best, he’s usually brought that facet of his game up to an even higher level. Advanced data is available in six of Matsuyama’s career wins on the PGA TOUR. In five of those six victories, Matsuyama ranked fourth or better in the field that week in Strokes Gained: Approach. In all, 44.6% of Matsuyama’s Strokes Gained: Total in his wins have come from his approach play. That’s a significantly higher average than his peers – over the last 10 seasons, players who win on the PGA TOUR gain, on average, 35% of their strokes via approach shots.

    Though Matsuyama has been consistently good throughout his professional career with his approach play, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t found room for improvement. One area of recent improvement is his proximity to the hole from 125 to 150 yards. Matsuyama ranked 71st on TOUR in that particular proximity range just three years ago. He ranked No. 2 on TOUR in that statistic in 2020-21, and he led the TOUR in it last season.

    In Matsuyama’s 2021 Masters win, he ranked fourth in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach (+1.79 per round) and tied for seventh in greens in regulation. Green jacket in tow, Matsuyama will be a fixture at Augusta National for decades to come. With iron play being incredibly significant there – six of the last eight Masters winners ranked in the top-five that week in Strokes Gained: Approach – Matsuyama should find himself hitting significant shots on Masters Sunday many times in the future.

    Success tee-to-green

    While Matsuyama’s transcendent talent comes with his irons, he’s been a good driver of the ball since turning pro, too. Since 2013-14, Matsuyama has averaged 0.33 Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee per round on the PGA TOUR, 43rd-best of 331 players with 100 or more ShotLink-measured rounds in that span – that comes out to the top-13 percent.

    Matsuyama’s overall ball striking numbers since turning pro are, in turn, absolutely stellar. He’s ranked ninth on the PGA TOUR in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking per round since 2013-14 (+1.06), his first full season. He’s fifth on TOUR in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green per round (+1.32) in that same span, just ahead of Justin Thomas. Matsuyama has ranked in the top-20 on the PGA TOUR in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green in each of the previous nine seasons, the longest active streak of any player.

    This consistently reliable ball striking has made Matsuyama one of the more bankable week-to-week performers on the PGA TOUR over the last decade. Matsuyama has never missed more than five cuts in a single PGA TOUR season. He hasn’t had back-to-back missed cuts in more than six years – the last time that happened was in the summer of 2016, at the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday and U.S. Open. Since 2014-15, Matsuyama’s 49 top-10 finishes are tied for seventh-most on the PGA TOUR.

    Winning the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP in 2021

    Matsuyama’s five-stroke margin of victory at last year’s ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP marked the third time he has won a PGA TOUR event by five shots or more. Matsuyama started the final round with a one-shot lead, but carded two eagles and three birdies that Sunday to move away from the pack. His ball striking was, again, excellent – he led the field in greens in regulation for the tournament, hitting 81.9%, while the field averaged just over 61%. He also scrambled at a 77% clip, second-best of anyone in the field.

    In two previous starts at Accordia Golf Narashino CC, Matsuyama has been bested by one player (Tiger Woods in 2019) and has never shot a score higher than 68. Six players have successfully defended a title on the PGA TOUR since the beginning of last season, including Max Homa at the 2022-23 season-opening Fortinet Championship. Matsuyama and his brilliant approach play have a great opportunity to extend that list this week.