Why this was the single-most revealing image from the 2021 Masters

hideki matsuyama at augusta airport

Hideki Matsuyama at the Augusta airport on Monday.

Twitter: @bryanptak

No golf tournament produces more spectacular photography than the Masters. There are many reasons for that, and you could tick off these three boxes in the blink of an eye:

*The course is the most beautifully manicured park you could imagine;

*The players and fans upon it care so much;

*There is no signage (save the leaderboards!), which gives the whole place a sense of timelessness.

Among this year’s keepers, many taken by our own Stephen Denton, were the photos of Lee Elder on the first tee Thursday morning, old and frail and proud. Also the winning caddie, Shota Hayafuji, bowing to the course at the end of play. Another wonderful photo showed Xander Schauffele biting his 9-iron while making a triple on 16 on Sunday.

Lee Elder and Jack Nicklaus on the first tee Thursday morning.

Stephen Denton

But the single-most revealing photograph from the 2021 Masters, the one I find myself continuing to think about, was not taken at the Masters at all. Someday it will hang in a museum devoted to the art of golf with this title: “Hideki at Airport.”

As best I can tell, the photo was taken on a cell phone, from a respectful distance, by a man named Bryan Ptak, who posted it on Twitter with this caption: “Matsuyama’s on my 6:45 a.m. flight to Chicago, likely to connect to Tokyo. Just hanging out by himself at ATL with the green jacket draped over the seat next to him.”

There are layers and layers to this photo, starting with the fact that Hideki is, appropriately, wearing a mask at the Atlanta airport.

You can’t help but think that Hideki could hire a plane to take him, and his people who are outside the frame, from the Augusta airport to O’Hare, had he wanted to do that. He didn’t want to do that. He could have bypassed Atlanta all together.

Also, imagine what time Hideki got up, within hours after wrapping up his business at Augusta National Sunday night, for this photograph to be taken early Monday morning.

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His black baseball cap, with blocky white letters reading ANGC, is way more stylish than anything I saw being sold by ANGC last week.

And then, of course, there’s the coat. Hideki’s 42L green club sport coat. The coat is the focus of the entire week. Which is just as the club wants it. Nobody speaks of the $2 million you earn for winning the tournament. It’s all about the coat. Win the tournament and become a member for life of the club within the club.

You get to take the coat off-campus in your year as the reigning Masters champion. That’s a famous tradition. But in the end, it’s just a coat.

Hideki could have packed it, of course. If he wanted to be anonymous, he would have done that. He’s not trying to be anonymous. But he’s not going to wear it at an airport at 6 in the morning over a black T-shirt, right?

So he draped it over a plastic cushioning of a Delta gate chair, for anybody to see. No big whoop.

It’s a famous sport jacket, a prize of all of a golfer’s discipline and effort. But that’s also all it is. The fact that Hideki was on that flight that morning at all shows his discipline and effort, too.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael.Bamberger@Golf.com

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Michael Bamberger

Golf.com Contributor

Michael Bamberger writes for GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com. Before that, he spent nearly 23 years as senior writer for Sports Illustrated. After college, he worked as a newspaper reporter, first for the (Martha’s) Vineyard Gazette, later for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He has written a variety books about golf and other subjects, the most recent of which is The Second Life of Tiger Woods. His magazine work has been featured in multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing. He holds a U.S. patent on The E-Club, a utility golf club. In 2016, he was given the Donald Ross Award by the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the organization’s highest honor.