Photo by Todd Drexler/SE Sports Media

Morikawa Leads Bears Into NCAA Regionals

May 7, 2019

The Cal golf team will go into next week’s NCAA Regionals brimming with confidence. And why wouldn’t the Bears feel good about their chances, with arguably the best golfer in the college game teeing it up on their side?.

Senior Collin Morikawa, the Pac-12 Golfer of the Year and a finalist for virtually every award available, leads the Bears into the three-day 54-hole event Monday through Wednesday in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Should the second-seeded Bears finish in the top five in the 14-team field, they qualify for the NCAA Championships May 24-29 in Fayetteville, Ark.

“We are always confident,” Morikawa said. “We are going to use the motivation from what happened last year on missing out, to really put the focus in. I will do my part to play my best golf and really focus.

“We have been trending in the right direction. We haven’t had the final round we’ve needed to close it out. I think all spring we’ve played well. But you don’t want to peak too early. This is the time to peak right now heading into the Regionals.”

The Bears last reached the Championships in 2016, Morikawa’s freshman year. Last year they finished a disappointing tenth in the Regionals, missing the Championships. 

In their most recent competition the Bears finished second to Stanford in the Pac-12 tournament, although Morikawa came away with the individual championship as tournament medalist.

“It was bittersweet, and it goes back to how much emphasis I put on the team,” he said. “It is always cool to win individually, especially it being my senior year. That will be the individual memories, but  the team memories are what makes it special.”

Morikawa, who hails from La Canada Flintridge in Los Angeles County, has been the face of Cal golf since he first set foot on the campus in the fall of 2015. By that time he was already a veteran of the sport. He started young.

“My parents would buy me plastic clubs when I was one or two and I would hit balls in the house,” he said. “From there I would follow them to the range. By the time I was five I wanted to take lessons.”

“My dad followed me to every one of my lessons. My parents love the game, they support me. They follow all the scores. It was kind of cool my parents supported me. They just wanted what was best for me. They were the best supportive parents I could have asked for.”

A typical sports-minded youth, Morikawa enjoyed playing other sports, particularly baseball and basketball. But soon he reasoned golf was his game, and it required his full attention.

“I want to say I was 11 or 12 years old,” he said. “I had just given up baseball. I love baseball. I play basketball with my friends all the time, especially when I go home. But at that point, I knew that I wanted to be different. I wanted to get a scholarship for golf to one of the top colleges, for sure.”

Prior to Cal, Morikawa had a raft of amateur awards, including being named an All-American by the American Junior Golf Association.

He began his Cal career by being named Freshman Golfer of the Year by the Pac-12, has been first team All-Conference all four years and is certain to become Cal’s first four-time All-American. He was the 2017-18 Golfweek Men's Golfer of the Year and that he is a contender for National Player of Year again.  He has a string of 16 straight top ten finishes dating back to the 2017-18 season.

Despite all the individual accolades, Morikawa is a team guy. There is Cal of course.  -”To hear Go Bears everywhere is really cool” -- and the larger group of rooters.

“I have had the honor to represent our country,” he said. “That just tops everything else.”

He has been a member of Team USA in several events, including the Arnold Palmer Cup (twice) and the World Amateur Team Championship, but the most prominent was the 2017 Walker Cup. Morikawa won all four of his matches as he led an American victory.

“It was a long week and a quick week at the same time,” he said. “For a week and a half, it was just pure fun, meeting ten guys and our captain ... I will be able to have those memories forever.

“Then it’s two days of golf, 36 holes both days. Then you are done.”

The Cal staff knows it has been witnessing something extraordinary.

“What Collin has been able to accomplish is at Cal is simply amazing,” said Cal coach Walter Chun. “His consistency and number of top ten finishes put him in the category of one of the greatest student-athletes in school history.”

Most recently he was the recipient of Cal’s Gimbel Award, given annually to a graduating senior athlete for “excellence in attitude toward athletics and academics.”

Morikawa is completing the two-year undergraduate program at the Haas Business School. “I think what Haas has opened up for me is all aspects of business,” he said.”Haas has brought me so many topics, variety. To relate that into my professional golf career, being my own business and turning professional, it is going to be so beneficial to me to have that next step, to know what’s going on around me.”

Three times Morikawa has been able to take the course alongside pros. He nearly won his first effort, a 2016 event in Wichita, losing in a playoff. Later that year, he landed a sponsor’s exemption to the PGA Safeway Open at Silverado, although he missed the cut. The highlight for him was the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational, in which he survived the cut and finished tied for 64th. As impressive as it was, his playing was not the highlight of the week for him.

“Some very big names were there. Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, and Tiger Woods,” he said.

Woods has been Morikawa’s idol for years. He didn’t exactly get up close and personal with Woods, but there was some acknowledgment. “I did see him in the locker room and I walked by gave him a little head nod, “Morikawa said. “I thought that was pretty cool.”

It won’t be long before a meeting between Morikawa and Woods will become more meaningful.

“It will be fun to see what happens come the end of May at the NCAAs,” Morikawa said, recognizing that will be the end of his amateur career. “Whenever that last putt rolls,” he said, “I will turn pro the next day.”

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Morikawa Leads Bears Into NCAA Regionals

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