While so many around these parts were rooting at some point or another for Tony Finau to close in and win the Masters, and if not him, some other strong American because … well, isn’t that what Utahns do, what Americans do?
Yeah, they root for someone close to home, and if not that, they root for their kind, someone who looks like them or is in some imagined way connected to them. America … fetch yeah.
Maybe it would be Finau, the kid who grew into a man on the west side of Salt Lake City with a compelling story worth rooting for. Finau was never anybody’s idea of a prototypical golf pro, him not exactly coming from the traditional country club background. Anybody who pounded drives and other assorted shots into a mattress hung on a wall in the family garage because it was an affordable method for perfecting his young game is a person worth getting behind, no?
Well. As has been his fate in the past, Finau couldn’t quite hang at the top of the leaderboard at Augusta National. He still finished tied for 10th, which is a sweet reward for most golfers, and for Tony it must have been sweet, but, with a pro of his caliber, also bitter, falling short of what he was hunting down.
At this point, only a green jacket will satisfy that.
There were others to focus on, guys like the charismatic Jordan Spieth, a player many golf fans are drawn to, and Xander Schauffele, out of San Diego State, and Justin Thomas, a former World Number One, and this new 24-year-old skinny kid, Will Zalatoris, who reminds some observers of a young Johnny Miller. Even Patrick Reed, a former Masters champ who a lot of people seem to be bothered by, would have been all right.
Instead, it was Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama who at the end had the prized wearable trophy slipped onto his back late Sunday in the Butler Cabin, covering shoulders that had carried perhaps a bigger burden than any other competitor over the weekend, the expectation of an entire country. And a glorious carry it was, as Matsuyama became the first Japanese golfer to win the game’s most cherished reward.
Too often in the United States, and most recently too violently amidst the tragic shootings in Atlanta, Americans of Asian ancestry have suffered through mistreatment in this country, from ignorant bias to the worst behavior, unimaginable in its horror, there is.
To see a 29-year-old man rise up and accomplish what had never before been done to the delight of a golf-crazed nation’s faraway fans on golf’s most sacred ground was heartening, encouraging, healing — for those in the home country and, with any luck, for fans across America, too.
It should matter not one bit that Matsuyama had to answer post-tournament questions through an interpreter, that his command of English isn’t at the level to which would bring the victor enough comfort to speak in Augusta’s native tongue. This was cool.
Any golfer who during Saturday’s rain delay walked out to his car in the parking lot, played games on his phone as a means of calming nerves that might have otherwise gotten to him, has to be OK to younger fans looking for a tether to a foreign athlete who likely, despite his previous achievements in golf, was new and unfamiliar to them.
He is unfamiliar no more.
Good for Hideki.
He might be from a land some 6,000 miles away, some 8,000 miles from Georgia. He might not have slammed beater balls off a strip of carpet into a mattress hung in a garage in Rose Park. He might not have been a local favorite, far from it. He might not be American. He might not look like Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus. But he plays like them, at least he did for four days at Augusta.
And the green jacket fits him fine.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.