2015 Preview: Hideki Matsuyama

The final putt for Matsuyama's first PGA Tour win.

The final putt for Matsuyama’s first PGA Tour win.

Welcome to the 2015 Golf Preview, where I’ll take a look at selected golfers and examine what to expect over the next twelve months. Today, we look at Hideki Matsuyama.

The History

Back in 2009, the golf world was captivated by an 18-year old golfer who looked destined to be the first major winner to come out of Japan. He played in the final two majors of the year, and went 3-2 against much more seasoned competition at the Presidents Cup, but the last few years haven’t been that kind to Ryo Ishikawa, who admittedly at just 23 years old is far from done, but while Ishikawa has fallen to the 7th ranked player in the world from Japan, Hideki Matsuyama has become a true superstar.

At just 22 years of age, Matsuyama has six wins on the Japan Golf Tour, including his last start at the Dunlop Phoenix just over a month ago and in 2014, he picked up his first PGA Tour win, defeating Kevin Na in the slowest moving playoff in history at the Memorial. Matsuyama finished 2014 ranked as the 16th best player in the world, and if he can fix a couple of things, that could be the lowest we see him for a very long time.

ESPN’s Hideki Matsuyama Headshot

ESPN.com has a lot of great golf content, but their player headshots are, shall we say, a little outdated, with Ryan Moore leading the way. As such, I’m introducing the Ryan Moore headshot ranking system. Each player will get a ranking from 1-10, with 10 being the most outdated possible.

Here’s Matsuyama’s headshot from ESPN:

matsuyama espn

Nothing to see here. Matsuyama’s far too new to have his headshot be outdated, but we may have to check this again in a few years.

1/10.

1-moore-head

Why You Should Watch

Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyk, Justin Rose and Adam Scott are all known as incredible ball strikers, and the stats back it up, as those five guys were ranked 1-5 in the Strokes Gained Tee To Green category on the PGA Tour in 2014, but Matusyama was right behind them in sixth place. In the overall, he finished in 15th place thanks to some terrible putting, which actually didn’t bother him at the Memorial, as he won despite a negative strokes gained total for the week, but his overall rank of 156th for the year is going to need to be improved. How good is Matsuyama with his approaches?

matsuyama 2014 approach stats

If you like to watch absolutely pure golf, Matsuyama is one of the best and he’s only going to get better.

Matsuyama in one GIF

Hideki Matsuyama became known on a global level at the Presidents Cup.

Hideki Matsuyama became known on a global level at the Presidents Cup.

This came at the 2013 Presidents Cup held at Muirfield Village about nine months prior to Matsuyama winning his first PGA Tour event at the same venue, and this is exactly what I was talking about in the stats above. Paired with Adam Scott against Bill Haas and Webb Simpson, the Internationals were one down on the 18th when Matsuyama stuck this approach to halve the match.

Absolutely love the swing too.

The Question

Is Matsuyama ready to contend in majors?

When I wrote my preview for the 2014-15 PGA Tour season, I predicted that Matsuyama would win his first major at Whistling Straits when it hosts the PGA Championship in August and I’m sticking by that, but if Matsuyama were to have a season where he contended in the majors, or in a perfect world, had the 2014 Rickie Fowler run, no one would be upset.

The putting has already seen a bit of an improvement, as in the first two events of the 2014-15 season that were tracked, Matsuyama was actually gaining strokes on the field instead of losing them. If he can continue that kind of play on the greens, and the irons are as solid as 2014, there’s no reason why Hideki Matsuyama can’t win multiple times on the PGA Tour in 2015, and that includes majors.

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