Lexus, like a lot of Japanese companies, is known for playing the long game.
And so it was with the Japanese premium brand’s decision to sponsor Hideki Matsuyama back in 2014, when Lexus pegged the then 21 year old as a “promising young golfer.”
Now, some seven years later, that bet is finally paying off. Matsuyama became the first Japanese golfer to win a men’s major championship when he donned the Masters’ green jacket on Sunday. And under that jacket was a yellow-striped polo shirt emblazoned with the Lexus logo.
“Striving for the world’s best resonates with Lexus,” Lexus said in a Japanese Twitter shoutout after the golfer’s victory on the links at Augusta. “We support Matsuyama.”
Matsuyama turned pro in 2013 and has quite a following in Japan. Lexus hosts a Japanese-language webpage dedicated to the fine points of his game, including “miracle shots” and his swing.
It was American Mark Templin, then serving as Lexus International executive VP, who signed Matsuyama on for the first three-year deal, saying “his dedication to his craft mirrors the Lexus approach.” The initial contract enabled Toyota's premium brand to use Matsuyama’s name and likeness in global marketing, while providing Matsuyama, now 29, with vehicles on tour.
His team has a fleet of four LX SUVs at his disposal in the U.S. and 1 RX crossover in Japan.
A Lexus spokesperson said the brand initially sponsored Matsuyama in an attempt to appeal to the Japanese customer base. But as career took off, so did the sponsorship’s marketing reach.
Matsuyama’s win, for example, helps raise the Lexus name high in front of a well heeled crowd of potential U.S. buyers as the brand reinvents its image for a new era of electrification and fights in a tight race for the U.S. luxury sales title. Lexus sales surged 32 percent in the first quarter to 74,253 vehicles, trailing segment leader Mercedes-Benz by just 4,000 deliveries.
Of course, a higher profile also gives Lexus a lift in golf-crazy Japan, where Lexus – after a slow start in the domestic market – now outsells its German rivals. In February, Lexus notched sales of 4,758 vehicles in Japan, while Mercedes-Benz sold 3,937, BMW 3,094 and Audi 1,833.
Hans Greimel reports for Automotive News.