After making history with his victory at the Open earlier this month, Collin Morikawa might well be the favorite to win Olympic gold in the country where half his family is from.
Morikawa, who is half Japanese, became the first man to win both the PGA Championship and the Open on his tournament debuts having won his maiden major last year.
And now he is in Japan for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as part of a four-man Team USA delegation, looking to win the country’s first ever Olympic gold medal in men’s single golf.
After finishing in the top 15 of the Olympic Golf Ranking at the close of the qualification period, Morikawa joined Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele and Bryson DeChambeau in receiving the honor of representing the US at the Summer Games.
Unfortunately for 2020 US Open winner DeChambeau, he has been forced to withdraw after testing positive for Covid-19. He has since been replaced by 2018 Masters winner Patrick Reed.
Just over two years ago, Morikawa was ranked 1,039th in the world having finished tied for 14th at the RBC Canadian Open in June 2019. Now, he is a two-time major winner heading to the Olympics.
And he says he’s ready to soak everything up while in Japan.
“(His excitement) is through the roof to really think about where I was two years ago as an amateur and where I am now in the world, everything I’ve done so far,” he told CNN Living Golf’s Shane O’Donoghue.
“It’s crazy to think that I have this opportunity, but it’s something that I’m never going to take for granted. No one’s going to be able to take it away from me and to be representing Team USA, it’s one of the biggest honors really.”
Playing for his country
While Morikawa is making his first appearance for Team USA, it is not his first time playing as part of a team in a golf tournament.
During his amateur career, the 24-year-old participated in team formats at the Arnold Palmer Cup, the Walker Cup and the Eisenhower Trophy.
But competing at the Olympics as part of Team USA is going to “top all of that by a million times” because of the Games’ global appeal, according to the world No. 3.
“For golf, we’re such an individual sport. And even though the Olympics – yeah, we’re playing individually, and we’re making ourselves trying to win gold or whatever. You’re playing for your country and those were the best memories I made as an amateur,” he said.
“And this is just going to top all of that by a million times because it’s on a professional stage, it’s worldwide. So really anytime you wear USA on your sleeve or your chest or wherever it may be, it’s something that, it’s always going to be with you.”
When the golf competition kicks off on Thursday, July 29, at Kasumigaseki Country Club, Morikawa will be suiting up alongside three of the top-12 ranked golfers in the world.
As well as describing having “chills” when pulling on a jersey with the US flag embossed on it, the high caliber of the selected players – and the players that missed out – showcases the strength of American golf at the moment.
“I think it shows the strength of young golf and a lot of young players right now. But we all want to beat up on each other. I think we try and do that. I haven’t really talked to them since we’ve all made the team, but I know everyone’s excited to be on that team.
“You can’t be on the team and not be excited to represent Team USA because I think you ask any player that’s ever represented their country – wherever they’re from – it’s the biggest honor, especially since we play such an individual sport, when we’re able to be on a team, um, it means that much more to us.”
For Morikawa, coming to play in Japan will be a special honor given his Japanese heritage.
Although his Japanese relatives have moved to the US, being half Japanese and having a Japanese surname “definitely resonates with a lot of people” in the country, says the two-time major winner.
“It’s cool to see people just somehow relate and see me: yes, I’m an American, but yes, I’m an Asian-American. And just see opportunities and hope that people that look like me could have this opportunity to go out and make an Olympic team.”
He recalls first making the trip to Japan with his family in 2017 when he was in college, falling in love with the people and culture in the process.
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However, being a self-confessed foodie, it was the cuisine that really grabbed Morikawa and is one of the main things he’s looking forward to in Tokyo.
“I could eat sushi all day,” he gushed. “When we played the ZOZO Championship (in October 2020), I remember we were in this little town around the airport, and I think every player went to this one sushi spot in it and hands down, it’s probably one of my favorite places I’ve ever been to.
“Definitely, something I look forward to,” he added.