The following was written by Damian Secore, special to the Outlook.
Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ricky Barnes and Bryson DeChambeau are Californians who have won the U.S. Amateur and leveraged the ultimate amateur experience as a springboard onto fruitful and famous PGA Tour careers. This is the path La Cañada Flintridge native Collin Morikawa hopes to emulate.
Morikawa, 20, is the No. 1-ranked amateur from Southern California in the 312-player field of the 117th U.S. Amateur Championship, which will be held at the Riviera Country Club and Bel-Air Country Club from Aug. 14-20.
“Collin is among a great group of outstanding youngsters in the field of 312,” said Michael R. Yamaki, corporate office of The Riviera Country Club. “It’s going to be an incredible week of golf for the players and the fans as the U.S. Amateur champion is crowned.”
Morikawa is hoping L.A. will love him back on a pair of its famed golf courses, and that his third U.S. Amateur will be the charm, culminating with him hoisting the prized Havemeyer Trophy.
“It’s definitely the best amateur event anyone can play in,” said Morikawa. “The strength of the field and the size of the field, allowing any amateur to play, it’s the pinnacle of the amateur events. I take a lot of pride in being from L.A. I love it down here. I’ll always live, breathe and bleed L.A. Seeing the history and all the players that have been out here, I just hope to represent L.A. and Southern California as best as I can.
“To have the biggest event of the year for us here in L.A., it really means a lot. Hopefully, we’ll get some big crowds out there and we’ll have a lot of fun.”
The La Cañada High School alumnus and University of California junior participated in the previous two U.S. Amateurs — Morikawa did not qualify for match play in 2015 before reaching the Round of 16 in match play last year at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
Morikawa began his U.S. Amateur preparations in earnest during the last week of July, doing reconnaissance at the upcoming U.S. Amateur sites. He played Bel-Air for the second time and Riviera, home of the PGA Tour’s annual Genesis Open in February, for the third time on consecutive days.
“They’re great courses,” the former La Cañada High School standout said. “Growing up in California, you kind of get used to the Poa annua grass. The first priority is to make match play. It’s not easy. I hope to make it far and give it a good run. What I learned last year, it’s going to help me a lot. Match play is a completely different game from what we usually play. You have to be consistent. You can’t give away shots because every shot counts.”
Morikawa credits his father Blaine and his uncle Mel for introducing him to golf. As a child, he would tag along with them to the driving range. Shortly after, he was introduced to golf on television and took inspiration from another Southern Californian’s domination of golf — Tiger Woods — and joined the ultra-competitive California junior golf scene.
“I gave up baseball and basketball when I was about 10, and I knew this is what I wanted to do,” Morikawa said. “I knew I wanted to be a professional golfer at some point. Growing up, I was a Tiger Woods fan. Who wasn’t? What he’s done on the course is absolutely stunning.
“I always loved competing and playing in many tournaments as a little kid. Growing up in California, I’ve been very fortunate to have such great players to play against and push me toward a higher goal. Competing on the biggest stage is what I live for and what I love to do. It’s not something I get tired of, ever.”
Morikawa’s golfing achievements have stockpiled at Cal. In his 2015-16 season, he was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, became the Bears’ first GCAA Freshman All-American and tied for 10th at the NCAA Championships. As a sophomore last season, he was named a Division I PING First-Team All-American, a semifinalist for the Jack Nicklaus Player of the Year and Ben Hogan awards, and finished second among all NCAA golfers with a 69.94 stroke average.
Morikawa plans to see his time through at Cal and graduate in two more years before he considers a professional golf career “unless something really big happens, like winning a professional event.” That almost happened during his first foray on a professional circuit last year.
Receiving an exemption into the Web.com Tour’s 2016 Air Capital Classic, Morikawa advanced to a playoff against current PGA Tour golfers J.J. Spaun and Ollie Schniederjans, who ultimately won the tournament. In October, Morikawa made his PGA Tour debut as an amateur exemption at the 2016-17 season-opening Safeway Open in Napa.
Coming off his sophomore campaign, Morikawa was one of 10 members of the victorious U.S. team in June’s Arnold Palmer Cup, posting a 2-2 record at Atlanta Athletic Club. It was one of Morikawa’s most memorable golf highlights and it will lead to another as he was nominated from the U.S. Palmer Cup squad to receive an amateur exemption into next year’s PGA Tour Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard in Orlando, Fla.
Just two months removed from the Palmer Cup, Morikawa believes the experience on that stage can help him prepare mentally and emotionally for competing at the U.S. Amateur.
“Representing the United States at the Palmer Cup was fantastic, and to be put in that position in match play was amazing,” Morikawa said. “Representing the United States, it’s something that you never forget.”