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While it’s hard to measure the size of the economic impact brought to Japan by Hideki Matsuyama’s historic Masters victory a week ago, there is hope within domestic golf circles that the historic feat will boost the sport’s popularity going forward.

“From what I’ve seen, I believe that we’ve had roughly 10% more people coming to our store since Matsuyama won the tournament,” said Makoto Yasuda, who manages the main Osaka branch of national golf merchandise retailer Tsuruya Golf in a telephone interview on Friday. “I think that is the influence of his win.”

Yasuda was expecting to see an even bigger difference in foot traffic beginning over the weekend after the 29-year-old’s triumph at Augusta National potentially inspired casual fans to hit the links.

“People see more news of Matsuyama’s win and other news about the sport in general, and then they’re probably driven to want to play the game as well,” Yasuda said.

However, others in the industry believe that it was a little too early for Matsuyama’s win to have a sustained effect.

“I don’t know … maybe we’ve had a few more golfers at our place (since the Masters),” the president of a large driving range in Kawasaki said, declining to be named. “But I can’t tell if that’s because of Matsuyama or if his impact hasn’t come yet. But I’ve heard that some other places have seen more junior players coming to their places.”

Both Yasuda and the range operator agreed that golf’s popularity has increased since the COVID-19 pandemic began last spring, given that it’s played outdoors and comes with a reduced risk of infection compared to contact team sports such as soccer and basketball.

People walk in front of a screen showing the news of Hideki Matsuyama's Masters win on Monday in Tokyo's Akihabara district.  | AFP-JIJI
People walk in front of a screen showing the news of Hideki Matsuyama’s Masters win on Monday in Tokyo’s Akihabara district. | AFP-JIJI

Yasuda said that the pandemic has prompted those who had never played golf to start playing it and purchase equipment designed for beginners. But he feels that customers’ shopping habits have been a little bit different “over the last few days,” with some explicitly looking for the equipment and clothing worn by Matsuyama.

Yasuda also noted a difference following Japan’s last major golf win in 2019, when Hinako Shibuno captured the Women’s British Open.

“After Shibuno won, we sold an incredible amount of merchandise,” Yasuda said. “The thing is, even amateur male golfers thought they could use the lighter golf clubs used by female golfers like Shibuno. But they don’t think they can use the clubs Matsuyama prefers, so instead they prefer to buy other accessories he uses like golf bags or clothing.”

Yasuda said that golf has experienced a significant amount of growth in recent years among women and people in their 20s and 30s, and he hopes Matsuyama’s victory will extend those trends.

In particular, the Ehime native’s triumph may prove especially valuable for the nation’s golf industry because he achieved the victory using clubs from domestic manufacturers.

According to Japanese golf media, Matsuyama had been using non-Japanese drivers despite being sponsored by Sumitomo Rubber Industries. But he began using Sumitomo Rubber’s Srixon-branded driver from last fall.

“Drivers are the ones that sell the most so the fact that he used a Japanese driver was huge,” Yasuda said.

The president of the Kawasaki range wants to wait to see if new amateur players stick around after the glow from Matsuyama’s win fades, or if they will abandon the sport as quickly as they pick it up.

But he has positive expectations that Matsuyama’s accomplishment will draw younger players, reversing an overall decline in the number of golfers in recent years.

“Naturally, older players eventually quit playing,” the president said. “So hopefully, it will increase the number of younger players including junior golfers down the road. That’s what I want to pay attention to.”

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