Open champion Collin Morikawa is relishing playing in front of Japanese fans again after the “dull” atmosphere of a spectator-free Olympics.
Morikawa is the top-ranked player in this week’s ZOZO Championship, which returns to Narashino Country Club – where Tiger Woods won a record-equalling 82nd PGA Tour title in 2019 – after being staged in California last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The world number three, who is of Japanese descent, is making his fifth trip to the country since 2016 and is joint favourite for the title with Olympic gold medallist Xander Schauffele.
“I’ve pretty much come back once a year almost and it’s just getting better and better,” Morikawa, who lost out in a seven-man play-off for the bronze medal in Tokyo, told a pre-tournament press conference.
“These are some of the best fans. I was here earlier for the Olympics and we didn’t have anyone and it just felt dull. Even though it was the Olympics and we knew what we were playing for, it has a different feeling when you have fans.
“I remember my first tee shot out here two years ago when there were fans on stools and lined up five, six people deep. They would cheer for you walking to tee boxes, hitting every tee shot whether it’s good or bad.”
Morikawa finished runner-up to Rory McIlroy in the CJ Cup at his home course in Las Vegas on Sunday before taking the PGA Tour’s charter flight to Japan, only getting to the players’ hotel at around 6am on Tuesday.
But with his Open triumph at Royal St George’s helping him top the European Tour’s Race to Dubai standings – no American has won it before – the 24-year-old is happy to put up with any travel issues as he seeks a second overseas victory.
“It would mean a lot,” Morikawa added. “I think it just shows that your game can travel.
“Obviously I was never really in contention at the Olympics other than that late run for the bronze medal, but you want your game to travel. That’s why I’m a European Tour member, that’s why I try and play a lot in different places.
“This next month and a half of travel I’m playing here in Japan, we’re going to play in Dubai [the European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship], we’re going to play in the Bahamas. It’s a lot of travel.
“You’ve got to adjust and you’ve got to get your body right and I think that’s just what it is to be a professional golfer, is learning on the road how to get ready each and every week.”