Collin Morikawa opened the PGA Tour season as one of the most promising golfers in the world, having won three competitions in his first year as a professional, including the PGA Championship last August.
In the 11 months since then, Morikawa — a native of La Cañada Flintridge who grew up playing at Glendale’s Chevy Chase Country Club — has cemented himself as more of a blossoming legend than a mere phenom by winning the WGC-Workday Championship and, most recently, representing the U.S. in the Olympics and capturing his second major title.
The golfer, 24, is one of four Americans competing in Tokyo at the moment and as of Friday was tied for 25th at three under par through two rounds. Compatriot Xander Schauffele had an impressive second round, carding eight under, and shot to the top of the leaderboard. The U.S.’ Patrick Reed is tied with Morikawa and Justin Thomas is tied for 39th at one under par through two days of competition.
Morikawa entered the competition as one of the hottest golfers in the world, having recently held off Jordan Spieth and Louis Oosthuizen to win the Open Championship — also known as the British Open — and become the first player to win two separate majors in his first attempt. Golf luminaries Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan and Bobby Jones are among those who never accomplished the feat.
“We only get four majors a year, and every single one of them is very special,” Morikawa said after the win. “To finally get to play an Open Championship for the first time and win it, it’s going to be that much more special. I won the PGA, and then coming back as the defending champ you just have a sense of like you belong. This is going to be part of you for the rest of your life.”
Morikawa shot 15 under par this month to claim the Claret Jug and is now the champion golfer of the year, a title given to the athlete who wins the oldest and one of the most prestigious golf competitions, which this year was played at Royal St. George’s Golf Club in England.
“The Open Championship is going to be part of my life the rest of my life, no matter what happens,” said Morikawa, who also collected the winner’s purse of $2.07 million. “To be part of that history, it’s awesome. To hear ‘champion golfer of the year’ … chills.”
Oosthuizen led through the first three rounds but struggled in the fourth, finishing one over par on the day because of three bogeys. Morikawa was three under par and tied for ninth after the first round but shot up to second place after a stellar performance in the second round with seven birdies and only one bogey. At that point he was six under and trailed Oosthuizen by two strokes.
Morikawa remained calm under pressure and consistent in the Open’s last two days, but a turning point came on the seventh hole of the final round when he recorded the first of three consecutive birdies to surpass Oosthuizen, who bogeyed on No. 7 and did so again on the 13th hole.
“At that point, I felt like I was hitting quality shots,” said Morikawa, who graduated from Cal in 2019. “I was hitting good shots to give myself chances for birdie. Saw what happened to Louis. I’m not sure what happened with his first bunker shot, if he had a tough lie or anything, but just to have that little switch of a two-shot swing kind of got that round started and into another gear, in a sense.”
Such a finish silenced critics who questioned whether Morikawa could perform at a high level in front of a large crowd, considering that earlier victories were achieved when fans were absent because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The former Pac-12 Conference player of the year said he had “nothing to prove” going into the tournament, which allowed up to 32,000 fans each day.
“I hope the thing is off the table that I can play with fans and I can play well on a Sunday,” he said. “ … So to have fans, it’s so good to see people back. I hope everyone stays safe. Obviously, that’s the No. 1 goal, but they bring so much energy. We love it. I think every single golfer this week appreciates all the fans here because it’s just so much more fun to play in front of.”
The impressive win also propelled Morikawa to No. 1 in the FedEx Cup Standings and No. 3 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
The four-time Rio Hondo League MVP became the only player other than Woods to win the Open and PGA championships before turning 25. He is the seventh golfer to win the Open in his debut and the first since Ben Curtis in 2003. Morikawa also became the first player since Jones in 1926 to win two majors in eight or fewer starts (the Masters and U.S. Open are the other major tournaments), feats that don’t surprise those who knew him when he would visit Chevy Chase in his high school days.
Former Crescenta Valley High School Principal Ken Biermann, a longtime club member, competed with him in tournaments at the nine-hole course.
“Back then, I think anyone would recognize him as being a very courteous young man, one that you saw a lot of future,” said Biermann. “Obviously, the potential in golf was there in what he was doing. He was always a gentleman.”
According to Biermann, 80, Morikawa still exhibits that quality. The star golfer visited his old stamping ground last year and met with the country club owners and a few members.
“He was going around and showing everybody how he used to come up and take shots,” Biermann said. “He spoke to people as if they were the most important one in the room. That’s just the quality of person he is and has been. I think the real key part to me was he always had his dad around, and I really appreciated that.”
Manager Ryan Dunn was also present when Morikawa visited the golf course nestled in the canyons of Glendale and was impressed by his knowledge of the sport.
“I thought, ‘Holy cow, this guy’s the real deal,’” Dunn said. “We were just walking around with him and talking about his game and about the course. Now I watch him play, it’s almost like I can put my eyes through the lens of the [local] course and see what he’s looking at, and I realize, ‘Oh, it’s like hole No. 2.’ So it’s kind of cool being able to know that he kind of cut his teeth here and seeing him on his courses on the main stage. It kind of invigorated me to play golf a little more.”
Morikawa’s remarkable run also reinvigorated the sport with many appreciating his approach and swing, but he isn’t resting on his laurels and is determined to add to what is already an impressive career.
“I think when you make history — and I’m 24 years old — it’s hard to grasp, and it’s hard to really take it in,” Morikawa said. “It’s so hard to look back at the two short years that I have been a pro and see what I’ve done because I want more. I enjoy these moments and I love it, and I want to teach myself to embrace it a little more, maybe spend a few extra days and sit back and drink out of [the trophy]. I just want more.
“When you’re in these moments and you truly love what you do, which I love playing golf and competing against these guys, these are the best moments ever because the nerves push you to just be a better person.”