CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA – Hideki Matsuyama knew a major title wouldn’t come easy, but after coming so close and letting victory slip through his hands it was harder to accept the fact he didn’t come out on top in the season’s final major.
Matsuyama looked on course to become the first male Japanese major champion until he struggled down the stretch in the final round of the PGA Championship and slumped to a 72, finishing three shots behind first-time major winner Justin Thomas at 5-under 279.
The 25-year-old had squatted down and covered his face with his hands to hide his tears during a television interview and needed some time to regain his composure before speaking to reporters.
“I don’t think I have what it takes to swing with confidence,” said Matsuyama, who moved up a notch and regained his world No. 2 status on Sunday.
Later, after the hoopla died down, his management company revealed that he had married in January and welcomed the birth of his first child in July. The news came just a day after a story about him in the U.S. media said that other than his fondness for sake and his prodigious practice sessions, little was known about Matsuyama off the course.
Tipped as the runaway favorite to win by the official website of the PGA Tour, Matsuyama regretted the scoring chances he wasted. He missed the green with his second shot on the par-4 11th and started a run of three consecutive bogeys.
“I had a chance to birdie the 11th but turned it into a bogey. It made me feel like I’m good for nothing. I was making mistakes in not-so-difficult situations and that’s hard to take,” he said.
Still, Matsuyama said he clung onto hope for a miraculous recovery when he got back-to-back birdies in Nos. 14 and 15, only to miss a three-foot par putt for a bogey in the par-4 16th, a costly stroke that would eventually push him back to a two-way tie for fifth.
“I was as nervous as I was when I competed on the Japan tour as an amateur,” said Matsuyama.
After the third round, Matsuyama was one shot off the lead after shooting 70-64-73 at Quail Hollow Club, while Thomas moved into contention at 5-under, two shots behind.
At this point Matsuyama was still in high spirits. Looking back, he said he was relaxed and thinking he would play better than in the third round, when he surrendered his share of the overnight lead by carding three bogeys.
He teed off second from last in a group with 14th-ranked Thomas, whose final round of 68 featured six birdies, including two spectacular ones over the last six holes in a back-nine charge.
“I want to learn from this experience. I don’t know what it is I have to do in order to win, but I want to practice with all my heart and soul,” said Matsuyama.
Matsuyama struggled to put the past behind him and looked for anything on which he could rebuild his self-esteem and keep pushing forward.
By earning $388,500 for a share of fifth place, Matsuyama managed to maintain his top spot on the PGA Tour money list and FedEx Cup points, but he will have to wait till next spring for another opportunity to make history.
“It’s not like this experience is going to help me overcome (the challenges of a major championship) but the more majors I compete in, the more chances I’ll have,” he said. “I want to increase my odds so that one of them turns into a jackpot.”
The release about his new family did not reveal any details about his wife or child.
“In order to protect the privacy of mother and child, and thinking about their safety, I chose this time to make the news public,” Matsuyama said.