When Collin Morikawa was just a teenager, Ed Smith knew he was something special on the golf course, but he didn’t anticipate this kind of stardom so fast.
“There are a lot of great professional golfers out there, so I wasn’t sure how good he would get,” said Smith, South Pasadena High’s golf coach, when asked if he expected this kind of success in such a short period of time from Morikawa, who just won his second major title in a little more than two years on the PGA Tour.
It takes no convincing nowadays for Smith to say Morikawa is quickly perfecting his craft after the 24-year-old, who once showcased his talents against South Pasadena golfers as a member of the La Cañada High School golf team, won the Open Championship at Royal St. George’s in England last Sunday with a two-shot victory over Jordan Spieth.
Coupled with his major title in 2020 at TCP Harding Park in San Francisco, Morikawa has already achieved more than many pro golfers do over the length of an entire career. And, it doesn’t appear he will be settling on just two major victories, as Morikawa is now halfway to the career Grand Slam after just eight starts.
“He’s pretty good,” summed up Smith, thinking back to 2014 when he first took over the Tigers’ golf program, noting that it was Morikawa’s last in a La Cañada uniform as the senior was counting his days before heading off to U.C. Berkeley, graduating from the prestigious Haas School of Business in 2019, two months prior to winning his first PGA tournament.
While at Cal, Morikawa became the university’s first four-time All-American and was a three-time first-team honoree. As both the 2019 Pac-12 Individual Medalist and Player of the Year, in 2018 Golfweek National Player of the Year honors.
Overall, he posted five victories, 22 top-five finishes, and 35 in the top-10. He’s a two-time All-America Scholar who also holds the school record with a 69.78 career stroke-play average.
While Smith may have saw charisma in Morikawa at a young age, it was his precision and execution on St. George’s over the four days at the Open that won over the crowd. In the end, Morikawa was remarkably eloquent in accepting the prestigious Claret Jug going to the winner during a memorable award presentation speech.
A long way from home, welcomed by a joyous ovation, Morikawa told the gathering: “This is by bar one of the best moments of my life, to see everyone out here, look at all these fans. You guys have been amazing. I’m obviously very biased being from the U.S., but to see some of the best crowds I’ve ever seen, I look forward to making my trip every year to the British Open and cheering you on. Thank you guys. I wouldn’t be here without my family, my friends, my parents, my brother, Kat, my girlfriend. I love you guys so much, I hope to see you guys really soon.”
Now some in the golf world are comparing Morikawa to another giant in the game as he joins Tiger Woods, along with Jordan Speith and Bobby Jones as only the fourth player from the United States to win the Open before turning 25.
Morikawa is only the 10th player to win his Open debut and first to do it since Ben Curtis accomplished the feat in 2003. His PGA Championship was also his debut in that one.
His statistics and lofty numbers are impressive enough, but those who appreciate the game seemed to be more enchanted with the way he handled the victory celebration, praising low amateur Matthias Schmid, thanking the gallery for coming out – something the pandemic prevented him from doing during his first major win in San Francisco – and wishing his caddie a happy birthday as the crowd sang the famous tune – a little out of tune, but close enough.
“…Happy Birthday to you,” they rang out in chorus at its conclusion.
Indeed, it was a joyous moment for all, but especially the man of the hour, in the limelight, beaming through it all.
Morikawa’s remarks, all 180 seconds of it, was just another reminder to Smith, who must of given his approval, that all is good with the game of golf after watching the post-tournament festive atmosphere.
Now Morikawa is off for Japan to compete in the Summer Olympics. He will be joined by fellow Americans Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele and Bryson DeChambeau. Morikawa is the youngest member of the team and Cal’s first men’s golf Olympian.
Featuring 72 holes,the Olympic tournament will be played at Kasumigaseki Country Club July 29-August 1. It marks just the second time that golf has been featured in the Olympics since 1904.The sport returned in 2016 after a 112-year absence.
“It’s fun to watch what he’s done out there,” said Smith, noting that Morikawa showed the same grace and respect for his fellow competitors in high school as he does around pros today.
“There was just something about him that made him standout,” said Smith. “He was by far the best golfer in when he played for La Cañada but he always took time congratulating others,” said Smith. “I noticed that about him right away. There was nothing phony about him. You could tell the other players like being around him.”