Every advertisement and promotion for this week’s Zozo Championship will heavily feature Hideki Matsuyama. The same was true in 2019 when the PGA Tour’s only Japanese event debuted and in 2021 when Matsuyama, the country’s golfing icon, arrived as the reigning Masters champion and proceeded to win the event. Clearly, he is pivotal to the identity of Zozo Championship.
More broadly, though, he has become critical to the future of the PGA Tour. Throughout the summer, rumor after rumor tied Matsuyama to the Saudi-funded LIV Golf series, with offers reportedly in the $300- to $400-million range. If those figures seem high, keep in mind that signing Hideki likely would have earned LIV a Japanese TV deal.
But it didn’t happen.
In late August, Hideki ended the courtship and LIV dropped a few Japanese players who were apparently serving as placeholders for a Matsuyama-led team. The failed negotiations were a blow to LIV’s efforts to gain traction in a big, lucrative golf market.
These days, Hideki is, as he said in a pre-tournament press conference, “fully committed to the PGA Tour.” He added, “The players who left did so because they thought it was the right thing to do. So I can’t say anything about them. I am playing on the PGA Tour and I want to continue doing my best.” He also expressed support for the Tour at last month’s Presidents Cup: “Simply, [the PGA Tour] is where I belong.”
There have been no media reports about what the PGA Tour might have said to Matsuyama’s camp in recent months. Maybe the two sides haven’t talked at all. Regardless, the Tour owes Hideki a debt of gratitude. He is the biggest non-Western star in the men’s game, the same one who was snubbed in last year’s Player Impact Program payouts, and who could have set off a domino effect by leaving. He helped the Tour avert disaster, at least for now.
Hideki will undoubtedly feel the love from the Zozo fans this weekend. He’d better start feeling the same from execs in Ponte Vedra, and soon.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg Newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.