We wanted to be the first to tell you that 22-year-old PGA Tour rookie Hideki Matsuyama is the real deal. But then he went out and won the Memorial Tournament in June, birdieing the 18th hole in all four rounds. So he's a secret no longer, and the way he plays the game makes you wonder how good he can really get. The confidence is there. "Winning the Memorial has helped me know that I can contend and win a major, which is my next goal," Matsuyama told us through a translator.The native of Japan started playing full time on the PGA Tour in fall 2013 and finished T-3 in his debut, the Frys.com Open. He added three more top-10 finishes in his first 16 events, including the Memorial. Statistically speaking, Matsuyama's real strengths are hitting approach shots close and converting them into birdies. Through July, he led the tour in proximity to the hole from three approach distances and was in the top five in birdies per round.As for his driving, you might call it controlled aggression. "He puts everything he has into the ball but stays in control," says Golf Digest Teaching Professional Rob Akins.
His setup is near perfect, teacher Rob Akins says. "One thing, though: His right foot is turned a little inward. When most golfers do that, they tend to sway going back. He doesn't sway, but I've noticed that the foot restriction can cause him to spin out on the downswing. I'd recommend he flare it out a little."
If you look at his backswing, you'll see his hips stay centered over his legs the entire time, Akins says. "That means he's really winding up, not just turning back." Another power move, Akins says, is that the length of his left arm remains constant and long all the way to the top. "It makes for a very wide swing arc."
PAUSE AND GO
Matsuyama makes a distinct pause before starting down. "I'm working on my tempo and trying not to get too fast with my backswing," he says. Akins is more impressed with his lower-body action. "He keeps his right knee flexed all the way to the top. If you straighten that leg, you'll make a reverse pivot."
LEFT SIDE DOWN
Halfway down, he maintains a wide swing arc while lagging the clubhead behind his hands, Akins says. "That's how you generate and store power for the hit." Akins also likes how long Matsuyama keeps his left shoulder lower than his right as he swings down. "You can't get the club stuck behind you if you do that."
FIRE THE CATAPULT
The shaft springs into the ball like a catapult, because he doesn't let his wrists flip through, Akins says. Also notice his turned-away head position at impact. "That tells me he's left-eye dominant," Akins says. Adds Matsuyama: "In my first lesson I was told to keep my head down, and I've been trying to do that ever since."
Like Rory McIlroy, Matsuyama's hip turn slows through impact, allowing his arms to whip through the hitting area, Akins says. "If you can learn to do that, you'll bomb the driver, too." He also drags his right foot closer to his left as he moves through the ball, which proves that his weight has fully shifted toward the target.
"He puts everything he has into the ball but stays in control," says Golf Digest Teaching Professional Rob Akins.