CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In tournament golf, pressure is always around you. For some, there is the pressure of outside and outsized expectations. For others, there is the pressure of avoiding being on the outside looking in. For everyone, there is the most obvious pressure, the pressure to win.
But for Hideki Matsuyama the pressure is different and more outlandish. It is the pressure of carrying your nation’s hopes onto every tee box and green. So it was again yesterday for the 25-year-old who is trying to become the first player from Japan to win a major championship.
At every major for the past several years, his name would come up in almost every press conference as someone from the ever-expanding coterie of Japanese media following him like a flock of goslings behind the mother goose would ask player after player if they thought Matsuyama would soon win his first major.
The consensus was, and remains, that he is on the cusp, and that is where he finds himself again this afternoon when he tees off in the final round of the 99th PGA Championship only 1 shot behind the leader, Kevin Kisner, with whom he played yesterday along with Jason Day.
For Matsuyama, close is becoming a familiar place. He has finished inside the top 15 in all of the first three majors this year, including a tie for second at the U.S. Open. That is his best finish in a major and ties him with Isao Aoki for Japan’s best. Aoki finished second to Jack Nicklaus at the 1980 U.S. Open. Matsuyama also is tied with Tommy Nakajima, whose six top-10 finishes in majors was the best by a Japanese player until Matsuyama did it in barely four years on tour.
Unless disaster strikes, Matsuyama seems sure to pass Nakajima today, but can he surpass Aoki and become the first from his country to win a major championship? If work will get it done, Matsuyama finally might get that weight off his shoulders because he is widely considered to be the hardest-working golfer on tour.
Once considered a poor putter, Matsuyama spends more time on the putting green than anyone and is almost always the last to leave the range during tournament weeks. It is often a battle between him and Vijay Singh for who will hit the least visible shot from the range as darkness closes in.
Ceaseless practice certainly has paid off this year. He’s already won three times, has three seconds, shot a 61 last Sunday to win the WGC Bridgestone, is currently ranked No. 3 in the world and has piled up $4,193,954 in earnings…