Collin Morikawa entered the Tokyo Olympics as the champion golfer of the year, a title given to the winner of the prestigious Open Championship, and was one stroke shy of leaving Japan as a medalist in the Games.
The La Cañada High School graduate — who seemed to be out of medal contention when he was tied for 24th after two rounds of play — rallied in the final round Sunday, shooting 8 under par to finish regulation at 15 under. That left him tied for third with Rory McIlroy and five other golfers to compete in a sudden-death playoff for the bronze medal at Kasumigaseki Country Club.
After three holes, only Morikawa and C.T. Pan of Chinese Taipei were left standing, but the former Spartan fell short with his approach on the 18th green and the ball landed in the steep front bunker. Morikawa ended up bogeying, and Pan edged him by sinking a par-saving putt to claim the medal.
“Yeah, you got to earn it,” Morikawa said. “It was a long four holes and I thought my shot was going to be all right and just mishit it and CT played great, and we had to shoot 8-under for both of us to get in this playoff for bronze. So it sucks, but hopefully it’s not a last and hopefully we’ll be back in four years.”
Morikawa’s compatriot Xander Schauffele won the gold medal after finishing 18 under, edging Rory Sabbatini of Slovakia by one stroke. Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed of Team USA both finished 10 under and tied for 22nd place.
Four-time Rio Hondo League MVP Morikawa seemed to have found his rhythm in the third round, carding 4-under to jump to 17th on the leaderboard, and carried that momentum into final round, but Morikawa believes there’s room for improvement.
“I missed a few drives left, I’ve been hitting 3-woods left, and we were just able to make a lot of pars,” he said. “I didn’t have any bogeys today, and that’s what saved my [fourth] round. … But the game overall still feels good, just got to tweak a few things to make sure we’re finding fairways, not missing it left where I try and take out the course over there.”
Despite missing out on standing on a tri-level Olympic podium by just one stroke, Morikawa came out of the competition holding his head high, calling it “one of the best experiences” of his life and asserting that the excitement surrounding the competition justifies golf’s return to one of the biggest stages in sports.
“Whether I get a medal or not, I’m an Olympian, and that’s what I said from the beginning of the week,” the Cal product said. “But I think what today brought out of me was more than just playing for myself; I was playing for our country and I was able to fight and dig deep. Sometimes that’s what you need.
“But to anyone that has second thoughts or doubts about whether gold should be in the Olympics or whether they should go and play to represent their country, they absolutely should because the Olympics reaches a wider audience than anything, [including] a lot of tournaments that we play. And whether this grows the game substantially or not, we’re doing our part to putting golf on the world stage and to show other athletes this is their pinnacle, and I think golf will be very exciting for the future in the Olympics.”