Collin Morikawa is of Japanese heritage and has traveled to the homeland of his ancestors before, but his trip to compete in the PGA Tour’s Zozo Championship in Chiba, Japan, began with a special treat – dinner at Sukiyabashi Jiro, the first sushi restaurant in the world to receive three stars from the Michelin Guide, where the omakase tasting menu is served at the counter with just 10 seats and is determined in the morning each day by famed chef Jiro Ono, whose story was made famous in the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”
“I almost don’t want to have sushi again because it was that special,” Morikawa said during a pre-tournament press conference Wednesday. “Chef Jiro was actually making the sushi for us, which made it even that much more special. Just being able to get that reservation, going there, sitting down. … you have about 30 minutes to eat the food. Man, I don’t know how to explain it other than it just being an incredible experience and an honor to be there sitting in front of him and witnessing just talent, right? It’s artwork.”
Morikawa, a two-time major winner and ranked 20th in the world, is one of several big-name talents with Japanese ties competing this week at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in a 78-man field with no cut and co-sanctioned by the Japan Golf Tour.
While the other six FedEx Fall events largely are a battle royale to determine who finishes in the top 125 and keeps a Tour card for the 2024 season – with some battling to finish between Nos. 51-60 and earn an exemption into the first two signature events of the new year – the Zozo is a field that consists of 11 members of the Japan Golf Tour and 17 players in the top 50 of the FedEx Cup points list, who can’t improve their status for 2024.
Morikawa, who competed on the U.S. side in the Ryder Cup, is playing this week at what he calls “one of my favorite places in the world to be,” and is planning a multi-week trip in Asia with his wife on the back end. But first and foremost it’s a business trip for Morikawa, who is winless since the 2021 British Open.
“At the end of the day I want to win and I just haven’t been able to close that out yet and finish that off. Here’s one last chance for the season to kind of come off and finish off on a high note,” he explained. “I know what my goal is and I know what I want to do and accomplish this week is really just stand up and find a way to win.”
He’s not alone in that desire. Xander Schauffele, whose mother, Ping Yi, was born in Chinese Taipei but grew up in Japan from the age of 2, already saw his grandparents Sunday when he arrived and spent some time with them Monday morning before getting back to work. He’s one of five players in the field that has competed at the Zozo Championship in each years since its inception.
“Coming to Japan is pretty simple for me. I have family here and to be able to sort of split the workload and seeing my grandparents is really cool, I wouldn’t pass that up for anything,” said Schauffele, who is No. 6 in the world but hasn’t hoisted a trophy this season either. “Of course, I’m still chasing a win this season and only have a few opportunities left to get that done. Winning is a very important thing and sort of how our careers are judged, and I wasn’t able to win, but the season isn’t over yet.”
Schauffele made his professional debut in Japan in 2018 at a Japan Golf Tour event and still savors the experience, though it didn’t go as planned.
“I shot a pair of 76s or 77s, missed the cut by a landslide,” he said. “I remember hitting a lot of balls OB and just struggling to get my feet grounded playing in my first pro start.”
But Schauffele’s greatest success to date also happened in Japan when he won the gold medal in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“It kind of gets better as time goes on,” he said. “I can hear people in Japanese saying, ‘Oh, there’s a gold medalist’ when I walk by, so it’s pretty cool.”
Rickie Fowler’s middle name, Yutaka, comes from his maternal grandfather, who is Japanese, and he has always supported the Zozo event, which will be his lone start during the FedEx Fall. Last year, he finished second and it kick-started a comeback campaign capped off by a win at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, his first title in more than four years.
“That was one that kind of helped me build some confidence and momentum going into what was a little bit of an offseason and really helped propel me to play some good golf this year,” he said.
Hideki Matsuyama, who won this event in his homeland in 2021 and finished second to Tiger Woods in 2019, leads the Japanese contingent in the field after a two-month layoff.
“The first month I really took it easy,” said Matsuyama, who hasn’t played since he withdrew before teeing off in the second of the BMW Championship in August citing a back injury. “It’s been a long time since I took that much time off, but the last month I’ve been working hard getting my game back in shape and I feel good about heading into this week.”
Matsuyama hasn’t won since the 2022 Sony Open in Hawaii, but that isn’t as long as Aussie Adam Scott, who has lifted a trophy 14 times on the Tour but none since the 2020 Genesis Invitational.
“I’ve got lots of different goals, I guess, but really to sum that up, I want to get back in the winner’s circle on Tour,” said Scott, who has been a consistent competitor in Japan throughout his career and competed in the Japan Open last week. “I feel like I still have the game to compete on Tour and be a winner. I’d like to kind of start here this week, but let’s keep that going in ’24, too.”
The FedEx Fall may not have the same cache as the regular season but even for these big names, winning still matters.