Hideki Matsuyama is quieter. Joaquin Niemann had heard that one, and through the early going at the Presidents Cup about a year and a half ago, he was, in fact, hearing nothing from his International Team teammate. Then, sometime that week in Australia, something funny happened.
Or, more specifically, someone.
“It was really funny because we didn’t get to know each other too much, and that way we got to know each other a lot. We got to do everything together,” Niemann said Sunday after his final round of the Masters.
“So every time I saw him, he would come up to me, ‘Let’s go, Niemann.’ It was funny to hear that word from him because you never hear him say anything. He was funny.”
Funny? Matsuyama? You must be joking. Don’t get us wrong: The newest Masters champ is plenty private. As GOLF’s Alan Bastable described, most of the golf world didn’t know the 29-year-old was married — until it was revealed that his wife, Mei, had given birth to their daughter, Kanna. “He’s really, really shy,” Eiko Oizumi, a writer and photographer for Golf Today Japan, told Bastable at the 2017 PGA Championship.
Of course, that doesn’t preclude you from also being a comedian.
After his round on Sunday, Louis Oosthuizen, another Presidents Cup teammate, was asked if there was something he could reveal about Matsuyama that maybe folks didn’t know.
“I can’t talk out of the team room, sorry,” Oosthuizen said.
That’s usually always a code for comedy.
There wasn’t much to glean from his winner’s press conference, which was just the standard fare of he was happy to win and Augusta was hard, told, of course, more eloquently than that. One answer did raise an eyebrow. His. A reporter had asked Matsuyama to describe his relationship with his Japanese interpreter, Bob Turner, and as he did, Matsuyama smiled ever so slightly. The word is he knows a bit more English than he lets on, and he potentially knew the awkwardness of having Turner not only translate a question about Turner, but also translating Matsuyama’s answer about Turner. When the answer was given, Matsuyama smiled again.
Earlier Sunday, as Matsuyama was building (then nearly losing) his final-round lead, various players were asked for an anecdote or two. To be transparent, some either didn’t have one, or some said he was actually quiet. Adam Scott, another Presidents Cup teammate, and Webb Simpson said they’ve eaten a few dinners with Matsuyama. Scott described him as quite “an intense character, actually, even though we don’t really see that. I mean, and obsessive about his game,” while Simpson said the restaurant they ate at in Japan shut down for Matsuyama. “He ordered for me,” Simpson said. “Yeah, that was a little more like kind of the raw sushi, like the stuff was living, and then it was killed and we ate it right away.”
Then there were players like Niemann. And Abraham Ancer.
“He was actually very funny,” said Ancer, another Presidents Cup teammate. “I mean, he doesn’t know much English, but we had a great time. He was a great team player, obviously great player. … He’s been out here for a while now, and he’s still very young, but he’s a cool guy.”
A cool guy!
Social media turned up more. Matsuyama’s not exactly making hip-hop videos on TikTok or tweeting #takes on Twitter. (He doesn’t actually have an account with either, though there are ones with his name on them.) But he does have an Instagram account — @hidekimatsuyama1. There was a post after his Masters victory. A few golf photos. And a self-meme last April, in the midst of the pandemic shutdown.
Next to a picture of Matsuyama wincing his eyes after a bad shot was the caption: “So you’re telling me we’re stuck inside for another month!!?😭”
But his inner-Eddie Murphy moment may have come in a video developed by GolfTV in advance of The Challenge: Japan Skins in 2019. In it, three of the participants — Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day — are sitting in a classroom, before Matsuyama walks in. To his left is a monitor that reads “Japanese 101 with Hideki Matsuyama.”
He plays the straight man throughout, with digs at Woods on his age, McIlroy and Day on their outbursts, and himself on his pause at the top of his backswing. It’s worth a watch, which you can find here.
Matsuyama the comedian. It’s no joke.
“The times I’ve played with him, he’s been awesome. His caddie is awesome, too,” Niemann said. “We’ve had a lot of fun when we play together. Obviously, we don’t speak much, but we can understand, and we can, like, see in the eyes when you’re laughing or something funny happen.”