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Hello, Hideki! Japan receives its second Augusta champion in eight days

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Hideki Matsuyama expressed great respect for the victory achieved last week by his countrywoman, Tsubasa Kajitani. Matsuyama understands well the bright-hot spotlight under which golfers from their country operate, and he has both benefitted from its warmth and felt its burn. Unlike Kajitani, Matsuyama entered the final round of this week’s Masters with a sizable lead, every reason to win and every opportunity to lose. Although he lost three of his four shots of advantage, Matsuyama held on to the one that mattered and became the first male major champion from Japan.

He did five things very well on Sunday, and we’re going to run them down for you in this summary of Masters Sunday, golf’s high holy day.

1. From Z to Z: In the beginning and the end, there was Zalatoris

By the time Hideki teed off, he had lost half of his lead. By the time he tapped in for bogey on the first green, he had given back one more shot. Young Will Zalatoris, Dallas native and former Wake Forest golfer, had started day four with a pair of birdies and had reached nine deep. Matsuyama addressed his ball on the second tee, knowing that momentum usually chose the chasers. He fearlessly ripped driver down the left-center of the fairway, giving him a look at the green in two. His approach was shy, in the sand, but his recovery was exquisite, and he converted the putt for a momentum-altering birdie. Zalatoris would play wise beyond his years, as he had all week, and would compel Matsuyama to make bogey at the last to preserve his margin of victory.

2. Make early birdies—and bounce back

Matsuyama followed his birdie at the second with a pair at eight and nine. He turned in 2 under par and opened up a needed gap as Zalatoris stabilized, and no others gave chase. Jon Rahm was making a move, and would ultimately shoot 66 to tie for fifth position. It wasn’t until he reached Golden Bell, the beguiling par-3 12th hole, that Matsuyama made another mistake. Fooled by the wind, he airmailed the green, landing in the rear bunker on the fly. He wisely played to the fringe, rather than risk a shot into Rae’s Creek. He took two putts for bogey but diverted the big number from his scorecard.

As he had done at the second, Matsuyama made a bounce-back birdie at the 13th. His drive was a bit right, and his approach went safely long and left. His surgical precision with a wedge brought his recovery pitch to a stop 18 inches from the hole. The birdie steadied his nerves, and he narrowly missed another birdie at the 14th. Although he would bogey three of his final four holes, double bogey or worse was never a possibility.

3. Hit greens and make putts—and avoid the sand

Over the course of four days, Hideki Matsuyama hit 13, 14, 12, and 11 greens in regulation. He saved his best putting for the weekend. averaging under 1.5 putts per green from Saturday morning to Sunday evening. When he missed a green, Matsuyama found a way to get the ball close for a saving putt, unless he found the sand. On the week, he was three of seven for sand saves. Granted, the miss at the 72nd hole wasn’t critical, but that still made him 50 percent. Given the size of Augusta National’s bunkers, and their placement, had he found more sand, Matsuyama might not be responsible for planning a dinner menu next April.

4. Ignore your playing partner (or, from X to X)

Did you think that Zalatoris was the only, late-alphabet challenger to Matsuyama? Playing partner Xander Schauffele made the day’s strongest run at the overnight leader. After moving from 7 under to 8 under at the second, the new X-Man imploded with bogey-bogey-double from the third to the fifth. As attention turned to other challengers, Schauffele regrouped and made birdies at seven and eight to re-enter the top 10.

As the back nine dawned for the final group, the Californian still wasn’t in the mix, until he chopped four more strokes off his score. Birdies at 12 through 15 brought him to 10-under par. Had he stayed there, he would have joined Matsuyama in a playoff. Alas, the winds of Berckman’s farm surged at the worst possible time, and Schaufele’s tee ball at the 16th ended up in Jones’ pond. Triple bogey ensued, and Schauffele finished in a tie for the third spot.

While the Xander firework show took place, Matsuyama persevered. In a hilarious video with Tiger, Jason Day, and Rory, teacher Hideki comments that “Japan is a modest culture, showing emotion and celebrating is not common.” Neither, it seems, is losing your cool and choking. Hideki simply didn’t choke.

5. When it’s your week, seize it

Unlike Justin Rose, who opened with 65 and never again broke par at the 2021 Masters, Matsuyama played his first three rounds under par, culminating with a pure 65 of his own. His third round was the only bogey-free round of the tournament until Jon Rahm matched him on Sunday. Matsuyama was on pace to join Zalatoris as the only golfers with four rounds under par until his late-round struggles resigned him to a closing 73.

What does all of that mean? It means that Hideki Matsuyama arrived in Georgia playing well. He parlayed his experience and his current form into a shot at the title, and then he simply out-played and out-witted the competition. Augusta National rarely reveals why a certain player won and a certain player did not. The results are what the history book says, so when your chance arrives, seize it. Like Tsubasa Kajitani had done eight days before, Hideki Matsuyama did on the second Sunday of April.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

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News

Top pros call out NCAA over canceled women’s regional debacle

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12 of the 18 schools competing at the NCAA Women’s Regional in Baton Rouge, La., were left angry and heartbroken this week after the NCAA pulled the plug on the event to put an end to their dreams of competing at the NCAA Women’s Championship.

The event was due to be a 54-hole contest played over Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday but was initially delayed after a deluge of rain hit the course over the weekend.

Officials had hoped to play 18 holes on Wednesday to decide who would qualify but instead adjudged the course unplayable and canceled the event in its entirety.

Without a single ball being hit, this decision meant that the top six seeds in the regional advance to nationals and the top three individuals of the six that were competing.

Those teams are LSU, Mississippi, Baylor, Oregon, Maryland and Alabama, with the following players Karen Fredgaard, Houston; Nataliya Guseva, Miami (Fla.); and Hanna Alberto, Sam Houston.

Eliminating seeds 7-18: Oregon State, Houston, Miami (Fla.), North Texas, Purdue, Mississippi State, Tulsa, Sam Houston State, Kennesaw State, East Tennessee State, Jacksonville State and Quinnipiac.

In a statement outside the clubhouse of The University Club, Brad Hurlbut, the Director of Athletics at Fairleigh Dickinson, announced the news saying:

“Look, this is one of the most gut-wrenching decisions and announcements that I’ve ever been a part of. Even though the course is playable, it’s not playable at a championship level.”

The statement was understandably received with shock and anger by the players of the teams who felt cheated out of the opportunity to win a place at the NCAA Women’s Championship, with cries of  “You should be ashamed of yourselves” and “Thank you for ending our careers!” directed at Hurlbut.

The decision to cancel the event has also caused indignation amongst some of the most prominent names in professional golf. Here’s a look at the reaction of some of those on social media:

The NCAA Women’s Championship takes place in two weeks as the fallout from this week’s controversial decision continues.

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Tour Photo Galleries

Interesting photos from the AT&T Byron Nelson

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GolfWRX was on site at a very wet TPC Craig for practice rounds ahead of the AT&T Byron Nelson, and we weren’t going to let the rain wash away the opportunity for interesting photos.

We have six general galleries for your viewing pleasure

…and a number of special of galleries as well.

We got a look at University of Texas Junior Cole Hammer’s sticks as he prepares to put a peg in the ground at the Byron Nelson on a sponsor’s exemption.

Equipment free agent Daniel Berger was seen testing a Titleist TS3 driver with a Fujikura Ventus Black shaft.

D.J. Trahan once again solidifies his status as the Tour’s biggest Deadhead.

Kevin Chappell’s Wilson Staff irons have taken on a lovely patina.

Tidy stamping on Jhonattan Vegas custom Cameron.

Also on the Cameron front: James Hahn’s T12 Prototype.

More putter photos: Matt Kuchar had two center-shafted Bettinardi blades built for testing. (More photos here)

Rickie Fowler has gone back to his Newport 2 with “Cameron” stamped in the cavity rather than “Rickie,” which is in his other wand. He’s also been back in a steel shaft in the putter for a while.

Russell Knox was spotted testing an Axis1 putter.

New to us, this Odyssey “Sir Makes-a-Lot” putter cover is clever.

Odyssey Tri-Hot insert sighting!

Michael Greller displays Jordan Spieth’s new 2021 Pro V1x balls. Did he stop in the pro shop to pick up a sleeve?

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Tour News

AT&T Byron Nelson Tour Truck Report: Details on Spieth’s ball change, Kuch’s new putters, more

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There’s not a ton of tinkering going on at presently soggy TPC Craig Ranch where Monday was wet and Tuesday was a washout. With it being the week before a major championship and the heart of the season, most players are committed to dancing with the one that brought them and are only soliciting the tour trucks for spec checks and regripping.

Perhaps most interestingly this week, Jordan Spieth has switched from a previous generation of the Titleist Pro V1x into the current iteration of the golf ball (Exhibit A: The photos of Spieth’s caddie, Michael Greller holding up the wares below).

Check out all our photos from the Byron Nelson!

Matt Kuchar continues his flatstick experimentation as he looks to find his form on the green. Bettinardi built him a couple of long-neck center-shafted blades to tinker with. Face-on view of one of the models below, and more photos here.

More of what’s up with major OEM staffers, below.

Titleist

Sean O’Hair is testing a TSi2 (10 degree) driver and TSi2 (15 degree) fairway.

Per Titleist, Spieth offered this about his switch into the new Pro V1x

“I’m trying to optimize launch conditions through the bag. For me, the 2021 Pro V1x, I get more spin around the greens. It’s softer, spinnier around the greens with my short game shots. And then when I went up the bag, I started to get a little bit higher launch, but it didn’t add spin in the long clubs. It just added ball speed and launch. So it’s a little higher window, but it just looks like it’s screaming through the air. And then from the 7-iron on down, I didn’t see much difference in the full shots, just like I said more action around the greens.”

“I’m trying to just hit optimal windows and if I can gain – really, in my long clubs – just a little bit better peak height with a little bit faster ball speed, it actually helps fill my gaps a little bit easier. And then it’s just coming down – it has the potential to come down a little bit softer, which is obviously important. But I’m not seeing a massive difference through kind of that mid iron into short iron. And I still can hit each shot that I want to with the scoring clubs. So being able to tee off and all you do is change the ball and it’s actually in a similar window that’s going 3-4 yards further, that’s nice. And then when I get to the scoring range clubs, I feel like if anything, I just have the ability to hit an even softer shot if I want to. But the rest of them were all still there.”

 

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A post shared by Aaron Dill (@vokeywedgerep)

And while Titleist is mum on any further details, there is this…

Callaway

Sam Burns had set of raw Apex MB irons built for testing.

Talor Gooch is testing a 15-degree Epic Speed Triple Diamond with a Mitsubishi Diamana D+ 80 TX shaft.

Jamie Lovemark is testing a new Epic Speed Triple Diamond LS ([email protected] degrees) with an Oban HB Kiyoshi 05 shaft.

Wesley Bryant added a prototype full-face 58-08C (@59 degrees) MD5 wedge to his arsenal.

Image via Callaway’s Johnny Wunder

TaylorMade

Beau Hossler switched into a SIM2 Max (12 degrees).

Daniel Berger (non-staffer) added a 15-degree SIM2 Max to his arsenal.

Making his pro debut, amateur Pierceson Coody had this combo set built: P790 (3), P7MC (4-6), P7MB (7-PW).

Non-staffer Rory Sabbatini added a SIM2 driver (9 degrees) and P7MC to his bag (5-PW).

Others, free agents

Rickie Fowler returned to the Scotty Cameron with “Cameron” rather than “Rickie” at the Wells Fargo Championship, but this is the first good look at the flatstick we’ve gotten since the switch.

Daniel Berger was spotted testing a Titleist TS3 with a Ventus Black shaft.

Russell Knox was spotted testing an Axis1 putter.

In a pretty wild story we’re looking for more information on, notorious gearhead Chris Baker is rumored to be putting a set of irons belonging to Cobra rep James Posey in play. Incidentally, Baker is also testing a Kali White shaft.

Free agent Dominic Bozzelli is testing a Titleist TSi3 driver (9 degrees).

James Hahn is reportedly testing a number of shafts: prototype Aldila in a fairway wood, and Mitsubishi MMT in a hybrid and long iron.

PXG staffer Danny Lee switched out of Project X 6.5 and into KBS Tour V 125 shafts (5-PW) and KBS TGI 110 in 3 and 4-iron.

Tom Lewis has moved back into KBS S Taper 125 in his full set. He was playing Nippon 125’s in his irons and a Fujikura Ventus Black 115 HB in his Srixon ZX5 3-iron.

Check out all our photos from the Byron Nelson!

 

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