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For Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele, playing Olympic golf in Tokyo is a no-brainer

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  • Collin Morikawa
    Collin Morikawa
    American professional golfer

TOKYO – Collin Morikawa learned a big lesson after winning the 2020 PGA Championship that bears remembering coming off his British Open title.

“This is still golf,” Morikawa said Tuesday ahead of the start of the Olympic men’s tournament Thursday at Kasumigaseki Country Club. “It doesn’t just flow over to the next day and I’m automatically going to start making birdies every single hole.”

After his PGA win, in just his second year as a professional, Morikawa missed the cut at a tournament in Boston, was 20th in the next then sixth in the Tour Championship.

Now ranked No. 3 in the world, the 24-year-old American believes he is better prepared to sip beer from the Claret Jug in celebration of winning his second major, fly back to the U.S. for a few days then on to Japan and still regain his focus for golf’s second Olympic run since returning to the Games.

“Hopefully I’ve reassessed myself, taken a step back and realized what I did was great, but we’ve got so much more left of the season,” he said. “It’s such an important part of the season, I want to play well. The end goal is to win the FedEx Cup. There’s so many steps you have to take to get there, but overall I’ve done a better job than what I did after the PGA.”

Collin Morikawa celebrates with the Claret Jug.
Collin Morikawa celebrates with the Claret Jug.

Morikawa and three other Americans – world No. 4-ranked Justin Thomas, No. 5 Xander Schauffele, No. 12 Patrick Reed – are in a 60-man field that has majors caliber star power even without Spain’s Jon Rahm (No. 1) and American Bryson DeChambeau (No. 6), out due to positive COVID tests.

“Certain players decided not to play,” Schauffele, 27, said. “It’s a beautiful thing is we have choices. You can decide to go one way or the other. Bryson and Jon got struck down by COVID and those are two people who opted in to play and really wanted to win a gold medal. I know they’re both very disappointed.

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“For us, winning a gold medal and representing our country is a big deal or else we wouldn’t be sitting here answering questions. Growing up the things I dreamt of were Tiger Woods wearing red on a Sunday, I watched film of Jack Nicklaus at Augusta. You look at other sports, this is the pinnacle. For golf, it’s so fresh and new, it is something we want to do.”

Coming to Japan also has personal connections for Morikawa, who is half Japanese on his father’s side, and Schauffele, whose mother was born in China then raised in Japan.

Morikawa is making his fourth trip to Japan, where he has no living relatives.

“It’s one of my favorite places to come,” he said. “It’s not just because I love the area, but you embrace the culture. You enjoy just being here. You feel like you’re a part of the society when you’re here, you feel respected and as athletes you want to be respected. Aside from that, I love how much they love food so that also helps.”

Schauffele, whose father is German-French and is something of a cultural amalgam, also oozes with respect for the Olympic host, among the world’s most golf-crazed countries.

“People in Japan love golf,” he said. “I know if spectators were allowed, there’d be a massive show out. Selfishly I really wanted to see my grandparents, they’re getting a little bit older. I’m going to have to come back at some point. It would have been cool to spend some time with them in person.”

Stefan Schauffele, Xander’s father and swing coach, was a German decathlete with Olympic aspirations before at 20 being hit by a drunk driver in a car accident in Japan, losing vision in his left eye.

“If there was an opening ceremony, he could have been a part of, maybe he would have gotten emotional because it was a dream of his for so long,” Xander said. “He put all his eggs in one basket for such a long time, and it got taken away from him.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tokyo Olympic golf for Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele is easy call