Golf fans tuning in to watch the 2021 Masters were introduced to Bob Turner — a dapper, silver-haired gent performing Japanese/English interpreting duties for tournament champion Hideki Matsuyama.
Many Latter-day Saint viewers likely guessed Turner picked up his language skills on a full-time Church mission.
Their guess, as they say on the links, was an ace.
Long before Matsuyama finished atop the leaderboard at what many consider golf’s most prestigious event, the Japanese superstar and Turner, a returned missionary from the United States, were business associates and longtime friends.
For Turner, watching Matsuyama slip on the storied green jacket awarded to Masters champions was an unforgettable moment.
“It’s just now sinking in,” he told the Church News after returning to his Saratoga Springs, Utah, home following the historic week at Georgia’s Augusta National Golf Club. Matsuyama is the first Japanese professional to win the Masters.
“I’m just so proud of Hideki and the way he hung in there. He handled himself like a consummate professional. He’s a fine young man, a gentleman, and well-deserving to wear the green jacket.”
For his part, Matsuyama was grateful to have Turner at his side during the globally-televised interviews and other Masters events.
“Bob is a trustworthy friend,” said Matsuyama in a New York Post report.
A counselor in the Saratoga Springs Utah Stake Young Men presidency, Turner is quick to note he’s not a translator by profession. But as Matsuyama’s longtime manager, he knows his friend well enough to interpret the sentiments behind his Japanese words — and then articulate them for an English-speaking audience.
“When Hideki’s being interviewed, I try to express not only what he is saying, but what he’s feeling,” said Turner.
So what’s the backstory behind the connection between the 68-year-old Latter-day Saint grandfather of seven and the 29-year-old Japanese superstar? That story begins in 1972, long before Matsuyama’s birth.
When Turner was a young man he answered a mission call to serve in the Japan East Mission. Watching the present-day Turner casually converse with Matsuyama, it is tempting to assume the Asian language came easy to the young elder. Not so.
“I struggled learning Japanese, along with the other missionaries at the LTM (Language Training Mission) at the Church College of Hawaii. And I’m still working at it some 40 years later.”
Turner remembers it taking two years before he felt entirely comfortable conversing in Japanese. Still, serving in “The Land of the Rising Sun” forever shaped his life.
For one, his devotion to his mission country remains strong.
“I love the people of Japan, especially the members who sacrifice greatly to fulfill their callings and further the work,” he said. “The Church is growing strong in Japan and the future is bright.”
After returning from his mission, he married a Japanese woman who remains his language tutor.
“Thankfully,” he said, “I have a great teacher in my wife, Hiroko.”
The Turners’ adult children, Allen and Mika, are also both bilingual.
Turner was studying at Northern California’s Humboldt State University when he and Hiroko decided to relocate to Japan to continue their studies. A golf lover, he joined Tokyo’s Waseda University golf team. That experience evolved into business connections in the Japanese golf industry, eventually allowing Turner to work with golf legends who were playing in Japan, such as Seve Ballesteros and Latter-day Saints Johnny Miller, Billy Casper and Mike Reid.
In 1987, he returned to the United States, where he developed a business that assists Japanese golfers competing in the United States.
In 2010, Matsuyama won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, which qualified him to play in the Masters. Connections were made, and soon the Matsuyama-Turner association was established. Turner spends about 30 weeks a year traveling with the Japanese star.
“We do everything so all Hideki has to do is focus on golf,” said Turner.
Turner is not the only member of his family with close ties to a famous Japanese athlete. Allen Turner has worked as an English-language interpreter and handler for Ichiro Suzuki and other Japanese baseball players competing for the Seattle Mariners.
No surprise, people in the pro-golfing world and beyond are often intrigued when they first hear Matsuyama speaking in his native language with his American friend.
“It’s easy to share the gospel with others on the road,” said Turner. “The first question everyone asks me is, ‘Where did you learn Japanese?’ That leads right into talking about my mission in Japan. … I’m able to tell them my story. It’s been a wonderful experience to have those opportunities.”
The Turners are a beloved couple in their Saratoga Springs ward.
“Bob and Hiroko seem to lift everyone around them in every interaction, including me,” said their bishop, Ted Mardesich. “Their love for each other is profound and obvious. That seems to extend to everyone they meet.”
Turner, of course, is not the only Latter-day Saint who was prominently visible during the 2021 Masters. Fellow Church member Tony Finau finished the tournament in the top-10.
“Tony is the most well-liked, respected pro on the PGA Tour,” said Turner. “He and his coach, Boyd Summerhays, are great representatives of the Church.”