Collin Morikawa, already a two-time major winner and nearly an Olympic medalist this summer, ticks another significant box on his career golf checklist this weekend when he represents the U.S. at the Ryder Cup.
The question is: Can the 24-year-old Cal recapture the magic that has followed him since turning pro in 2019 or will his recent struggles on the course continue?
Morikawa learned Thursday that he will be paired with Dustin Johnson for the second foursome on Friday morning. They will face Paul Casey of England and Viktor Holland of Norway at 5:21 a.m. PT.
ESPN’s Mark Schlabach ranked all 24 players participating Friday through Sunday at Whistling Straits Golf Course in Kohler, Wisconsin, and he didn’t show a lot of confidence in Morikawa.
Here is his top-5:
1. Jon Rahm, Europe
2. Justin Thomas, U.S.
3. Jordan Spieth, U.S.
4. Rory McIlroy, Europe
5. Patrick Cantlay, U.S.
And Morikawa, the world’s third-ranked player?
He came in at No. 14.
Here is Schlabach’s explantion:
Breakdown: Everything seems to have come easy for Morikawa, who won on tour for the first time in his eighth start, won his first major in his PGA Championship debut, and then won his second major -- The Open -- in his eighth start in one. It would be silly to think he'll falter in his first Ryder Cup, right? A lower back injury helped lead to a missed cut at the Northern Trust and a tie for 63rd at the BMW Championship, but he said it's no longer an issue.
A skeptical view of Morikawa’s prospects this weekend is understandable.
In the weeks after injuring his back in the first round of the Olympic tournament in Tokyo, Morikawa repeatedly told reporters he was feeling OK again. Then he struggled on the course.
Ranked No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings heading into the three-week chase for the $15 million first prize, Morikawa never was a factor. He wound up 26th among 30 golfers in the season-ending Tour Championship and settled for a $425,000. (OK, not bad at all but hardly $15 mil).
Morikawa has said again this week his pulled muscle is now healed.
“I'm 100% healthy. Knock on wood right now, but I'm feeling great,” he said. “Those three weeks I was just trying to figure out how do I hit it better because that's a big part of my game, trusting, knowing where the golf ball is going to go.
“It feels good. I was talking with Xander (Schauffele) yesterday, and he looked at me, and he's like, You're back, and I was like, Yeah, I'm back.”
He learned a valuable lesson. By continuing to play — and how could he not, given the stakes? — his form suffered, which only made things worse.
Now he’s had several weeks to rest and regroup, and Morikawa says he’s ready.
“It was just bad timing. The biggest thing I learned from those three weeks was to never play injured. I'm never going to do that again, no matter what it is,” Morikawa said.
“It built bad habits into my golf swing. By the time the Playoffs had started at Liberty (National) I thought my back was feeling good, but I had just built in some really bad swing patterns, and that's what happens when you play with an injury.”
Morikawa is one of six Ryder Cup rookies on a youthful U.S. that hopes to write a new chapter in its rivalry with the European squad. Europe has won four of the past five duels, including by a lopsided score of 17 ½-10 ½, in Paris in 2018.
Since 1993, Europe has a 9-3 series edge.
“Six rookies . . . I think that’s a lot. But we have six veterans,” Morikawa said. “Even though we’re a fairly young team, we have a lot of guys who have just had experience in golf in general. Obviously, the Ryder Cup’s a whole different kind of beast, but I think we’re all meant for this stage and we look forward to it.
“We are very excited. It is puzzling how I think we’ve lost a lot in the handful of years. That’s the past. We’re here and we’re about the present and hopefully what the future is going to be like. It’s about this week and hopefully we can turn that around and turn that tide in our favor.”
Tony Finau agreed, suggesting this U.S. doesn't have "scar tissue" from past Ryder Cup outcomes.
"You guys see six rookies," Finau said. "Man, in this team room, I don't see any rookies. I see 12 guys that are confident, and none of us are wide-eyed. We want to win. At the end of the day, that's what I see. When I'm in the locker room, I see guys beaming with confidence and really hungry to win. That's refreshing. And I'm not saying that I didn't see that in Paris, but there's a certain feeling. I think the culture of American golf is changing."
Here's how to watch the Ryder Cup:
Friday: 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. PT (Golf Channel
Saturday: 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. PT (Golf Channel), 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. PT (NBC)
Sunday: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. PT (NBC)
Here is the Ryder Cup format:
Each of the first two days includes one four-match session of fourball and one four-match session of foursomes. The final day is reserved for 12 singles matches.
In foursomes, each two-man team plays one ball per hole with the players taking turns until each hole is complete. Players alternate hitting tee shots, with one leading off on odd-numbered holes, and the other hitting first on even-numbered holes. The team with the low score on each hole wins that hole. If their scores are tied, the hole is halved.
In four-ball, each member of a two-man team plays his own ball, so four balls are in play on every hole. Each team counts the lowest of its two scores on each hole, and the team whose player has the lowest score wins the hole. If the low scores are tied, the hole is halved.
In singles, each match features one player from each team. The player with the lower score on each hole wins that hole. If their scores are tied, the hole is halved.
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo