The Olympic golf competition has received mixed reviews in the years since Justin Rose won the gold medal in Rio in 2016. Tour players weren’t quite sure what to make of golf’s return to the Olympics five years ago, as several big names skipped the event for several different reasons.
Even with Bryson DeChambeau’s last minute withdrawal due to a positive COVID test, the United States boasts one of the field’s strongest teams with Xander Schauffele, Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas, and Patrick Reed representing the red, white, and blue.
The Olympic golf tournament hasn’t quite earned the prestige of the Ryder Cup or even the Presidents Cup, but it still means more than a normal week for the new Champion Golfer of the Year.
“I think what the Olympics represents is a lot of memories, representing your country, getting to wear a USA on your shirt pants, hat, everything,” Morikawa said. “It's one of the biggest honors and it really means a lot because we play such an individual sport we're so focused in on ourselves that we're put on a bigger stage and we don't get to do this too often and when you do, you want to represent your country as best you can.”
These Olympics are much different than in previous years due to all the COVID protocols, so the athletes aren’t quite getting the full experience, which is especially hurtful for Schauffele, who has plenty of family in the area.
Schauffele recalled crowds following his group at the ZOZO Championship reaching five to ten rows deep, and was looking forward to a similar atmosphere this week before COVID forced officials to hold the tournament without spectators.
“I know if spectators were allowed, there would be a massive showout with people and a lot of support from everyone,” Schauffele said. “Personally, selfishly, of course I really want to see my grandparents. They're getting a little bit older in age and it would be nice to see them. I'm going to have to come back and see them at some other point. And so, as well as my mom and my wife coming out as well, with their Japanese ties.”
Morikawa’s journey in pro golf has been so successful so quickly—he was still in high school when the last Olympic golf tournament was played—that it sounds too good to be true. But the two-time major champion always believed in himself.
“I think that day when me, Viktor, Matt Wolff sat down in 2019 I told everyone that if we just believed in ourselves and that's why each one of us are going to have our own paths, but I truly believed that the day I turned pro I could do this,” Morikawa said. “I wasn't trying to learn the ropes as much, just going out and bringing my game and then showing everyone what I've got and thankfully I've been able to play really well in some events and close out some tournaments.”
Japanese golf courses are relatively unknown to American fans, but for the players, the course conditions relate to the broader Japanese culture.
“Golf in Japan typically is much tighter, much narrower. Conditions are to be pristine across the board each and every week. That's just a standard here in Japan. If you've never played golf here, they like things to be perfect and they are, which is very nice for us to compete on,” Schauffele said. “But the feel of the course, it's very, it does feel like a championship course. It's much bigger. There's a lot of land. If you compare it to growing up playing U.S. Amateur Championships or U.S. Opens or things like that, they have that big-course feel and I do get a little bit of that when I'm out here, which is nice.”