It was good to see Jason Dufner win the PGA Championship two years after he gave up a five-shot lead with four holes to go and lost the tournament in a three-hole playoff to Keegan Bradley. Bradley and Dufner have since become close friends. Bradley was there at the end of the PGA Championship to congratulate Dufner soon after he tapped in for bogey on the last hole to win by two shots over Jim Furyk. Dufner had control of his golf ball and he had control of himself. He said that he pretty well “flat-lined” emotionally during the last round.
Meanwhile, I tried to keep my eye on a 21-year-old golfer who has made tremendous progress this year. I’m not talking about Jordan Spieth, the 20-year-old who won the John Deere Classic last month in a playoff over David Hearn and Zach Johnson, as impressive as he’s been. I’m thinking more about Hideki Matsuyama, the Japanese player who turned pro only last April. He’s been playing some kind of golf.
Matsuyama tied for 10th in the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club. He tied for sixth in the Open Championship at Muirfield Golf Club. He tied for 19th at the PGA Championship, shooting 66 in the last round to finish at one-under-par 279, nine shots behind Dufner. He shot four-under 31 on his last nine.
Matsuyama had played the week before the PGA at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio. He played with Tiger Woods in the first two rounds. Woods went on to win the tournament by seven shots. Matsuyama doesn’t speak much English, but Woods didn’t need to hear from him in a conversation. Matsuyama’s golf spoke volumes about his talent and potential. He shot 72 in the first round after double-bogeying the final hole.
“He has a boatload of talent,” Woods said of Matsuyama after their round. “He knows what he’s doing out there. And the more time he is out here, the older he gets, he will develop more shots. The talent is there.”
That’s been apparent. Matsuyama won the 2010 Asian Amateur, which got him an invitation to the 2011 Masters. He was the only amateur to make the cut. He won a Japan Golf Tour event as an amateur in 2012, and has won two tournaments there since turning pro in April.
Matsuyama has been flying up the official world golf ranking, after being ranked the world’s number one amateur only a year ago. He made it into the top 50 of the OWGR after his U.S. Open finish. His T-19 in the PGA Championship moved him to 29th, ahead of golfers such as Rickie Fowler and Martin Kaymer.
Then there’s the Presidents Cup, which will be played Oct. 1-6 at the Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio. Matsuyama is seventh on the points list for the International team that Nick Price will captain. The top 10 players on points after the Deutsche Bank Championship ends Sept. 2 will qualify automatically. Players have three tournaments left to pick up points.
Price will announce his two captain’s picks after the period of automatic eligibility ends. Matsuyama is playing this week’s Wyndham Championship at the Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he won, never mind another top-10 finish. He’s playing that well and has that much ability.
Still, it would be absurd to anoint Matsuyama as the next big thing in world golf. Any golfer can encounter a multitude of problems in the game. The swing and self-confidence can erode quickly, and it’s not easy to recover one’s game. Yet Matsuyama’s ascent is real. How does he see himself?
“I played far better than my expectations,” he said after his final round at the PGA Championship, “but I have a lot of work to do and a lot of things I've got to practice and make my game a little stronger to be able to compete.”
What can one say? How about this, as obvious a statement as it is? Matsuyama is a player to watch. There can’t be any doubt about it.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at email@example.com. You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein