Another Masters tournament is in the history books and history was, indeed, made this year with Hideki Matsuyama becoming the first Japanese player to don the green jacket.  It was a glorious couple of weeks for his country following on from last week’s victory by his compatriot Tsubasa Kajitani in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.

Just picture the scenes at the Olympic golf later this year in Tokyo!  The word at the moment is that because of COVID-19 no international fans will be admitted.  I’m not sure any of us watching at home will even notice.  Prior to Hideki’s win the demand for tickets was high in this golf-mad nation and now………..well, you can imagine!

Matsuyama’s previous rock-star status will have just gone stratospheric and how he is going to be able to compete in such an arena is beyond me.  COVID-19 was helpful to him in the past week because the large Japanese press corps that follows his every move was greatly reduced.  He therefore had fewer media commitments than normal and relished this increased, peaceful downtime.  This won’t be the case in Tokyo.  The pandemic restrictions mean there will be no diluting of focus on the home star and no significant galleries cheering for anyone other than Hideki, not a scenario for the faint-hearted.

History-making Matsuyama [Photo PGA Tour twitter feed.

It’s a couple of years since I was last at Augusta for the Masters and one more visit means I’ll have hit double digits, not even half the total of big sis Patricia.  Inevitably you learn a good deal about the place, the course and the past champions through research for whatever broadcasting duties are on the table but there are always some amazing little nuggets that someone reveals thanks to diligent searching of archive material.  For example, Hideki is only the seventh player who has won low amateur honours at a Masters and then gone on to win a green jacket.  If you can name the other six you should perhaps consider “The Masters Tournament” as your specialist subject on Mastermind.  In case you’re interested, the six are Cary Middlecoff, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia.  So this is now a select band of seven within an already select group.

Amateurs have always been held in high regard by the Masters tournament committee and a number of invitations are reserved specifically for winners of the greatest amateur tournaments each year.  This is in deference to the greatest amateur of all, Bobby Jones, co-founder of Augusta National Golf Club with his friend Clifford Roberts and instigator of the Masters.  Many recipients of these invitations delay their progression to the professional ranks simply to ensure they tee it up at the Masters.  They must make the cut to win low amateur honours, which in itself is not an insignificant achievement.  Hideki managed this in 2011 with the “big one” following a decade later, a pleasing amount of time to the ANGC members who like their champions to have served a bit of an apprenticeship before ascending to the top of the podium and slipping on a green jacket.  Some take much longer – Sergio took a whole 18 years but Nicklaus only took three and Tiger went one better with a slither of a gap of a mere two years.

Sergio is one of only seven players to have won both low amateur honours and a Masters title [Photo]

Modern-day winners of this tournament are made for life from a financial point of view, if they aren’t already but the most coveted aspect of this major is the acquisition of a very special, single-breasted, single-vent green jacket, colour Pantone 342.  Only members of ANGC and Masters winners can wear the jacket and only the current champion can take his away from the property for the year he holds the title (or five months in the case of Dustin Johnson).

South African Gary Player, a three-time winner, somehow “forgot” this rule in the early 1960s and received a call from Cliff Roberts enquiring as to its whereabouts.  Player claimed to know nothing of the rule and invited the chairman to come to South Africa to pick up the jacket any time he wanted.  Not often bested in an exchange, Mr Roberts chuckled and told Player “not to wear it in public”.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Gary wasn’t still smuggling the jacket away from the club after the champion’s dinner each year!

Gary Player:  possibly the only man who took his jacket home for keeps – and lived to tell the tale! [Photo Augusta Chronicle.]

That story is fairly common knowledge and it’s well documented how strictly the club works to avoid any of their jackets finding their way on to any of the auction sites.  Hence the practice of each jacket being stored at the club with the member’s name sewn inside it – rather reminiscent of school days!  The club did grant permission, however, for the removal from the club of the jacket of the 1970 champion Billy Casper.  They assisted Billy’s widow Shirley in honouring her husband’s wishes to be buried in his jacket, to date the only champion to have made this request.

It’s not often, therefore, that you see the green jacket out and about as you are going about your daily business  That’s why I love the contrast of the pictures above of Hideki with the low-key one below..  The top ones were beamed around the world on Sunday evening.  The following one was taken early on Monday morning at Atlanta airport by media journalist Robert Lusetich.  Matsuyama is waiting to board a flight to Chicago. probably en route to Tokyo and is quietly hanging out in a fairly empty airport with the jacket draped over the seat nearby.  It’s so different from his world a mere twelve hours earlier and it may well have been one of his last moments of peace before he arrived home to a hero’s welcome.

Enjoy it all Hideki.

Spot the athletic-looking guy with the not-so-common hand luggage at Atlanta airport on Monday [Photo Robert Lusetich on twitter]