Zach Thompson breaks down Collin Morikawa’s rise to stardom as one of the top young golfers on the PGA TOUR..
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The PGA TOUR has several exciting young stars on the rise, but none of them has proven an ability to succeed on the biggest stage more than Collin Morikawa. Morikawa is still only 25 years old but has already won multiple majors and proven that he’s ready to compete and contend at the biggest events. He should be among the best golfers in the world for many years to come. At just 5-foot-9 with a soft-spoken demeanor, he is far from the loudest or biggest player on the PGA TOUR, but his consistent excellence and proven track record lets his game speak volumes.
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Morikawa was born just north of Pasadena, California, on Feb. 6, 1997. He began playing golf at an early age, and at just 5 years old his parents got him an exception to participate in a junior golf camp at the public course at Scholl Canyon Golf Course in nearby Glendale. It was there that he connected with his golf coach, Rick Sessinghaus, who is still with Morikawa to this day. Sessinghaus and Morikawa collaborated to refine an approach to the game that feels “old school,” but has triumphed on modern tracks. While some current pros think of things scientifically, Morikawa has developed a much more artistic approach and has proven that he can use a variety of shot shapes and creative perspectives to feel his way around the course in a way that has led him to be consistently successful.
Morikawa has basically had a straight line to success, which is almost unheard of in any sport but especially in golf. He stopped playing other sports at 10 years old and quickly made a name for himself with an accomplished career as a junior. He was recruited to multiple colleges and ultimately chose Cal-Berkeley, where he starred over the next four years. He had a strong freshman year but emerged on the national scene in the summer of 2016 when he won the Sunnehanna Amateur.
He played his first professional event the following week at the Web.com Tour’s Air Capital Classic on what is now the Korn Ferry Tour. Not only did the 19-year-old make the cut, he posted back-to-back rounds of seven-under on the weekend to rocket up the leaderboard and make his way into a playoff. He lost to Ollie Schniederjans but definitely established himself as a rising star. Even after that near-miss, Morikawa chose to return to school and keep his amateur status. Over the next three years, he won five college tournaments, including the Pac-12 Championship, in addition to claiming Amateur victories at the Western Junior, Trans-Mississippi Amateur, Sunnehanna Amateur and the Northeast Amateur.
He didn’t just stay in school for the golf either, but also applied to, was accepted and graduated from the Haas Business School, the No. 3 undergraduate business program in America, according to U.S. News & World Report. He stayed in school and earned his business degree while climbing to the top spot in the amateur ranks for a three-week stretch in May 2018.
After graduating and going pro, it didn’t take Morikawa long to show he was at home on the PGA TOUR. In his debut in June 2019, he finished tied for 14th at the RBC Canadian Open. After making the cut at the U.S. Open and Travelers Championship, he finished tied for second at the 3M Open and tied for fourth at John Deere Classic, securing his PGA TOUR membership after just four events. The next time he teed it up, he claimed his first victory as a professional by winning the 2019 Barracuda Championship, which was the opposite-field event held the same week as The Open Championship. Morikawa birdied the final three holes to claim the win in just his sixth start after going pro. Morikawa continued putting up strong results the rest of his rookie season and made 22 straight cuts to begin his career, the second-longest longest streak to start a professional career behind only Tiger Woods’ 25 made cuts.
Morikawa and the PGA TOUR were forced to take a break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but when play resumed, the youngster surged right back to the top of the leaderboard, losing in a playoff to Daniel Berger at the Charles Schwab Challenge, the first event after the return. Later that summer he found playoff success at the Workday Charity Open, where he beat Justin Thomas after closing a three-shot gap over the final three holes and sinking a par to win on the third playoff hole.
Later that summer in just his second start at a major, Morikawa emerged with a win at TPC Harding Park just 30 minutes across the Bay Bridge from where he went to college at Cal-Berkeley. He became the third-youngest player to win the PGA Championship at age 23, and he did it in impressive fashion by firing a final-round 64 that matched the lowest final-round score by a PGA Champion, set by Steve Elkington in 1995. He was just the fourth player since World War II to win the PGA Championship before turning 24 joining an illustrious list of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. Morikawa won by two strokes over Paul Casey and Dustin Johnson and three strokes over Scottie Scheffler, Bryson DeChambeau and Jason Day.
The following spring, Morikawa picked up another big win at the 2021 WGC-Workday Championship against an elite field in Florida in his first WGC event. He picked up his second career major victory in the summer of 2021 in his debut at The Open Championship, which was held at Royal St. George’s Golf Club in Kent, England. Morikawa is the only player to win two different majors in his debut appearance and became the first player since Bobby Jones in 1926 to win two majors in his first eight career major starts.
After claiming that win in England, Morikawa spent the rest of the year continuing his success on the international stage. He tied for third at the Olympics, went 3-0-1 as part of a dominant Ryder Cup win for the U.S. and then won the Race to Dubai on the European Tour, becoming the first American player to claim that title. He chased down Rory McIlroy with five birdies in his final seven holes to win the DP World Tour Championship. Morikawa led the PGA TOUR in Shots Gained: Approach in the 2021 season with 1.170 gained. It was the highest season-long average since Adam Scott in 2015-16.
In 2022, Morikawa has not yet picked up a win but finished fifth at The Masters and tied for second at The Genesis Invitational. He has finished in the top 20 in each of the five majors heading into last week’s PGA Championship in addition to finishing near the top of the leaderboard in multiple events featuring the best fields on the toughest courses.
Off the course, Morikawa is engaged to his long-time girlfriend Katherine Zhu, who was also a great college golfer at Pepperdine. The two live in Las Vegas and are active in their support of multiple charities. One of the most important causes to Morikawa and Zhu is helping dogs in need. They fostered multiple dogs during the COVID-19 pandemic while sheltering in Vegas and adopted their golden doodle Koa, who naturally has an Instagram account and went viral when she supported Tiger Woods by wearing red on Sunday when Morikawa’s red shirt was delayed in transit ahead of Morikawa’s win at the WGC-Workday Championship the same week Woods was in a serious accident. Personally, I’m hoping that Koa makes an appearance in at least one of the NFT designs. Morikawa has said he is planning to start a charitable foundation but hasn’t said if it will support dogs in need or another worthy cause.
On the course, Morikawa is truly an artist and especially excels at shot-making. His irons and approach game are always sharp, and his work around the green is near the top of the world as well. He doesn’t have the greatest length off the tee, but he is truly a master of the second shot. The one area that has always been a struggle for him has been putting. He has admitted that work with the flat stick doesn’t come naturally for him, but when his putter doesn’t cost him too many shots, he’s extremely tough to beat. The most predictive stat in golf has proven to be SG: Approach over the past few seasons, and Morikawa is always among the best in that metric. His unique approach and masterful artistry make him a great pick to continue his success going forward.
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