Did Collin Morikawa have ‘winning the race to Dubai’ down as one of his goals for the year at the start of 2021? Whether or not he planned for this, he heads into the final event of the European Tour season, The DP World Tour Championship, sitting pretty at the top of the rankings.
Morikawa has 72 holes of golf to play this week to make history. Winning at the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai, designed by Greg Norman, would not only add $4 million to his bank account ($3 million for the tournament win and a $1 million bonus), but it would mean Morikawa would become the first American to finish first on the European money list. Morikawa is currently 236.2 points ahead of countryman Billy Horschel.
Morikawa had a lovely surprise at the pre-tournament press conference when a brief informal ceremony was thrust upon him. He became the 57th and technically the last honorary member of the European Tour, rebranding to the DP World Tour. The 24-year-old Californian is only the fifth American to receive the honor, following Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Patrick Reed.
“Two and a half years ago, when I turned pro, I had no clue what life was going to put in front of me,” said Morikawa. “Obviously, the world has gone through many changes, but this means a lot. We want to grow the game as much as we can, and this is an important piece of that. I’m going to honor this. It is very special and definitely a top highlight for me since turning pro.”
Morikawa has such an advantage at the top of the standings that only four besides Horschel still have a mathematical, albeit unlikely, chance of overtaking him. Min Woo Lee, Matt Fitzpatrick, Paul Casey and Tyrell Hatten could still claim the Race to Dubai title; however, even if Morikawa were somehow to finish 53rd in the tournament this week, in a field of 53, he would still top the standings unless one of those four wins the tournament and Horschal finishes worse than a two-way tie for eighth.
Despite being in a great position of strength, Morikawa is taking nothing for granted.
“I’m not taking this week lightly,” insisted the ever-humble Morikawa. “It would mean a lot to be the first American to win the Race to Dubai. I’ve put a lot of work in the last week, the past couple of days, to be ready and to come here and play as best as I can. Yes, we’re at the tail end of the season. But I made that mistake with how the FedEx Cup went. I injured myself and got a little unfortunate with the way the playoffs worked. I worked so hard through the regular season to put myself in a good spot, so I don’t want to let this go. You don’t know how many chances you’re going to get to win a Race to Dubai. I’ve been lucky to play well this year in a major and the WGC to get me in this position.
“But I’m here to win the tournament,” he continued. “If I just beat Billy Horschel, that’s not going to guarantee me the Race to Dubai. I’m trying to take care of my business. The only time I’ve ever looked at trying to beat an opponent was at the Ryder Cup. There, that’s all that matters—you get a point on the board. When it comes to tournaments like this, and you have a chance to win a season-long race like the Race to Dubai, you can’t think about that. You can’t worry about the ‘what ifs’ or what points might add up. You’ve just got to go out and play your best. The goal is to win the tournament.”
Morikawa was asked in the press conference if the European Tour’s transition to the DP World Tour will result in him crossing the Atlantic more often in the coming years.
“I’m always open to adding new events,” Morikawa said. “We travel so much, and my off-season this year is going to be about a month. I had three weeks off before this but still had to prep for this week and still had to get ready. So it’s all about balancing your schedule. I’ve been very lucky since I turned pro to figure out a schedule and been able to balance not playing too much here and there. But the European Tour, the DP World Tour, has been great to me. They’ve done amazing things every time I’ve been able to travel over here and play. It’s exciting. I’m always welcome. It’s been a lot of fun, and I look forward to adding a couple more events here and there.”
Morikawa’s response was with the diplomacy we have grown to expect from the young man who always carries himself exceedingly well. But the bottom line is golfers go where the money is, and most weeks, that will continue to be the PGA Tour.