The first time Collin Morikawa played in a professional tournament was in 2016. He was 19 years old and had just finished his first year at the University of California-Berkeley, where he was the Golden Bears’ top finisher in seven of 14 tournaments. That summer, he teed it up in the Korn Ferry Tour’s Capital Classic in Kansas, earning an exemption into the event by winning the Trans-Mississippi Amateur the year before. Morikawa didn’t win, but, after making the cut on the number, he shot a pair of 63s on the weekend and sank a 27-footer on the 72nd hole to get into a three-man play-off.
Ollie Schniederjans prevailed, but Morikawa’s performance was eye-opening. A few months later, still an amateur and now in his second year of college, he played in his first PGA Tour event, the Safeway Open. Morikawa – the top-ranked amateur in the world for a few weeks in the spring of 2018 – missed the cut, but he wasn’t dissuaded.
“Of course there’s going to be that wow factor, but did I believe I belonged? Of course,” Morikawa says. “I didn’t go there just to enjoy the experience. I still wanted to play really well and have a good finish. But that week I missed the cut and you learn what you did wrong and what you need to do better.”
Morikawa, who boasted sterling academic marks throughout his formative years, proved a quick learner once school was out, too.
In his first tournament as a professional in the summer of 2019, he tied for 14th at the RBC Canadian Open. Five starts later, he won, making birdie on his last three holes to capture the Barracuda Championship. The victory came at the end of a run of three straight top-five finishes but was really only the beginning. Morikawa proceeded to make the cut in each of his first 22 starts on the PGA Tour, a mark that has been bettered by only Tiger Woods and his streak of 25 in a row.
A year to remember
When Morikawa’s run came to an end at the 2020 Travelers Championship, he again proved a good student. “It was bound to happen at some point,” he said at the time. “I’m going to learn a lot from this week. I missed the cut as an amateur at the Safeway Open in 2016, and I learned more in those two days than I did in a lot of my events so far as a pro.”
Indeed. The next time Morikawa teed it up, two weeks later at the Workday Charity Open at Jack Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village Golf Club, he won again, this time in spectacular fashion, rallying from three down with three to play to force a play-off with Justin Thomas. Then he beat Thomas on the third extra hole for the second title of his career.
A month later, he won the USPGA Championship at TPC Harding Park, where, in the final round, he chipped in for birdie on the 14th hole then hit the shot of his life on the 294-yard par-4 16th – a driver to seven feet to set up an eagle. Morikawa’s six-under 64 was the best closing score by a champion in the event in a quarter of a century and enabled him to hold off Paul Casey and Dustin Johnson.
Just over a year earlier, Morikawa was still a college student, finishing up his degree and career as an All-American. “Instant maturity was probably the one thing that stood out,” Casey said in the wake of Morikawa’s triumph. “I mean, you know yourself – you’ve heard him talk. He’s very mature in the words he chooses, the way he speaks, the way he plays golf.”
Much of that can be traced to his roots. Morikawa, who is part Japanese and whose fraternal grandparents were born in Hawaii and still live there, grew up in the leafy and upscale suburb La Cañada, 20 minutes north of downtown Los Angeles. He enjoyed a comfortable childhood and never had to want anything. His parents, Debbie and Blaine, co-own a nearby commercial laundry business, which provides plenty for the family, while his 17-year-old brother, Garrett, plays football. In other words, it’s a proverbial American dream.
Though the family had a membership to a private nine-hole club nearby, it was a public track, Scholl Canyon, a 3,000-yard, par-60, where a five-year-old Morikawa first began to show promise when his parents enrolled him in a junior camp that he was technically too young to participate in.
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