Brent Kuszyk said he stopped Collin Morikawa when he spotted him at Brookside Golf Course this summer because he wanted to ask one of the world’s top amateur golfers for a tip or two that might benefit his own golf-obsessed son, Nolan.
Morikawa was in the midst of preparing for the U.S. Amateur Championship, but he gave Kuszyk a half hour, happy to share insight he’d gleaned about golfing life since he picked up a golf club for the first time as a 2-year-old, barely able to walk.
“What a great opportunity for a golf dad, to hear from someone who’s been in it,” said Kuszyk, who sits on La Cañada Unified School District’s Governing Board. “I kept saying, ‘I don’t want to keep you from practicing,’ but he just stood there, answering my questions. He’s just a really nice representation of La Cañada.”
Morikawa, a 2015 La Cañada High School graduate, will represent the United States at the Walker Cup Match on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 9-10, at the Los Angeles Country Club.
The biennial competition is widely considered the most prestigious amateur event in golf, pitting the United States’ 10 best amateur players against their counterparts from Great Britain and Ireland for a two-day tournament that features both team and individual matches.
“It’s the biggest opportunity and achievement of my career,” said Morikawa, who’s known around La Cañada Flintridge as a stellar athlete, a serious competitor and a super nice guy. “Making this team was definitely one of my goals, it’s one of the biggest achievements to be able to represent the U.S. — I couldn’t be more excited.”
Many of golf’s biggest stars once were Walker Cup participants, including giants such as Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.
The 46th rendition of the event, taking place on L.A. Country Club’s North Course, is being played in California for just the second time.
“To have it in L.A., I’m really lucky,” said Morikawa, who is the second-ranked amateur golfer in the world, according to the Scratch Players World Amateur Ranking.
In June, Morikawa helped Team USA to a sizable 19.5-11.5 victory over Team Europe at the Arnold Palmer Cup in Johns Creek, Georgia — where he was selected by both teams to receive the exemption into the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational next year. They chose him because he best embodied Palmer’s legacy as someone whose presence helped make golf cool and more accessible to the mainstream.
“For me to be playing really well and being able to play in both [the Arnold Palmer Cup and the Walker Cup], it’s kind of mind-blowing,” Morikawa said.
But those who know Morikawa are anything but astonished. His success is no accident; he’s dedicated massive effort to the game. “Endless hours,” by Morikawa’s own estimation.
“From what I understand, he practically lived at Chevy Chase [Country Club] growing up,” Kuszyk said.
“Even on weekends, I’d be at an area course and find him on the driving range at 8 in the morning, and he’d still be there at 3 in the afternoon,” said Richard Tetu, Morikawa’s coach at LCHS.
“I don’t think that guy’s ever home,” said dad Blaine Morikawa, who’s cheered from LCF as his eldest son spent this summer crisscrossing the country, contending in all of the most important amateur events: He won the Northeast Amateur, lost a playoff to take second at the Sunnehanna Amateur, tied for second at the Trans-Mississippi Amateur and reached the Round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur for the second consecutive year.
But Collin Morikawa is not sure any of that qualifies as work, he’s enjoyed it so much.
“Think about it, who wouldn’t be having a fun time?” said Blaine Morikawa, “He’s golfing, meeting new people. Oh my goodness, I can only imagine.”
“It’s something that I love to do, so it doesn’t feel like I’m working hard,” Collin Morikawa said. “I mean, I am working hard, but it doesn’t feel tenuous and straining; I’m out there to perfect the game and be the best player I can. I’ve always wanted to be a pro golfer, I never thought about anything else. People say, ‘You have to have a backup plan.’ I have no backup plan.”
Jarrett Gold predicts that Plan A is going to work out well for Morikawa, whom he accompanied two years ago to the CIF State Championship at Poppy Hills Golf Course in Monterey as an administrative chaperone.
Gold, now the LCHS 7/8 principal, spent four summers before he became a teacher caddying for a friend on the Nationwide Tour, a professional golf circuit akin to baseball’s minor leagues.
“Having seen all those guys play, Connor’s just as good as they are, if not better,” Gold said. “During those three days up in Monterey, I really got to know him as a kid and as a soon-to-be professional athlete. He’s so composed, and so smart and so good — and he was tough. He got real sick while we were up there and he played through it all.”
Morikawa’s college coaches are on record saying that they think Morikawa’s ball-striking (how he hits his golf shots) is as good as anyone’s in college golf — which is why they’ve pushed him to focus on his putting.
Morikawa said he thinks that added emphasis on his short game has helped him tremendously this summer, just as it did this past collegiate season, when he finished the year ranked as the nation’s No. 4-ranked men’s golfer, according to Golfstat.
So, anyone looking to Morikawa as a role model for what it takes to succeed in the sport, his recipe seems to include dollops of respect for the short game; natural ball-striking ability; lots and lots of practice and, yes, another important thing.
“He loved it, it was always very clear,” said Tetu, Morikawa’s former high school coach. “Every time he was on the golf course, he was having a good time.”