A professional golfer with ties to South Pasadena and recognized as one of the best the area has ever produced, is headed to the Summer Olympic Games next week.
Among a strong contingent representing the United States in Japan starting July 23 will be Collin Morikawa, who has already won a major among his four victories in his first two years on the PGA Tour.
Morikawa, part of Team USA, announced his Olympics participation on the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on June 24, saying he’s looking forward to wearing the red, white and blue against the top players in the world with an opportunity to come home with a gold medal.
Already, at the age of 24, Morikawa, who grew up locally, attending La Cañada High and battling South Pasadena High’s top golfers along the way, has hit great shots in big moments as a young tour pro following four standout years playing for Cal Berkeley.
He started his pro career two years ago with 22 consecutive made cuts, surpassed only by Tiger Woods who had a streak of 25. Morikawa has four tour victories, his biggest the 2020 PGA Championship.
Yet, he’s never won The Open in Europe, where he’s competing this week. Why? Simple, he’s never played in it. “I think I just have to learn how to play out here,” Morikawa told the Golf Channel about his first experience at the major championship, this year being played at England’s Royal St. George’s. “It’s very different but I have to stick to what I do best – ball striking, how do I give myself iron shots.”
And to put himself in a position to sink putts once he reaches the green.
“It’s to win,” answered Morikawa matter-of-fact when asked about his goal going into the event. “I’m not making the trip over here just to experience The Open or learn about it. I’m two years in as a pro now. It’s a tournament I’ve never played but I’ve been doing this for two years. It’s a little farther away from home, but the belief is still there and my goal is obviously to win.”
He’s a long way from La Cañada or South Pasadena where he has strong local ties. Morikawa is the son of Blaine and Debbie Morikawa, the latter a graduate of South Pasadena High.
He played collegiate golf at Cal from 2015 to 2019, collecting five tournament wins including the Pac-12 Championship two years ago. In May 2018, Morikawa, who earned a degree in business administration, was the topped ranked amateur in the world over a three week span.
Morikawa’s senior year playing high school golf for the Spartans was Ed Smith’s first year coaching South Pasadena High’s team. Oh, and what an impression he made, Smith pointing out that Collin “was much better than anyone else in the league. What stuck out about him was that he was just a really nice kid. He was far better than everyone, but he wasn’t cocky. He was very pleasant, respectful of his opposition and teammates, plus he was really, really good.”
In the Rio Hondo League finals at Marshal Canyon in La Verne Morikawa was far in front his nearest rival. “You knew he was going to be really good,” remembers Smith, who coached football at SPHS for more than 30 years, including 16 at the varsity level.. “When he would hit the ball, it just sounded different than anybody else. He had a real pop to it.”
After Morikawa graduated, Smith said to himself, “He’ll do okay, but after he went to Cal, where he really made his mark, I realized he was something special. I didn’t know he was going to make it into the pros, but compared to other kids in the Rio Hondo League at the time, he was so much better than them. He was head-and-shoulders above everyone else. He was really good, one of the best at the high school level I’ve ever seen.”
Standing out most about Morikawa emphasized Smith was that “he was really respectful after a match,” explained the Tigers’ coach. “He went up to our guys and showed good character. It wasn’t phony. He was also really great around his teammates. He was good, everybody knew it, but he didn’t have to tell everybody how good he was.”
Men’s golf competition in the Olympics starts July 29 with the women hitting the links the following Wednesday. Among those tuning is will be Smith.
“There are a lot of good golfers in the U.S.,” he said, “but Collin certainly is a good one. Yeah, he’s very deserving and definitely one to watch, a great young player. I hope he does well.”
On his Twitter account, Morikawa paid tribute to Fallon for allowing him to make the big announcement on his show that his next jet ride is off to Japan, writing: “This may not have been a dream as a kid since golf was never in the Olympics, but it’s a dream come true now. Tokyo bound, let’s go Team USA.”