Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the June 26 digital issue of Golfweek Magazine.
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Collin Morikawa was home in La Canada Flintridge, Calif., working on his game during the NCAA Championship. There wasn’t much time for television.
“I didn’t watch much,” said Morikawa, a Ping Division I first-team All-American who missed earning his ticket to Rich Harvest Farms as an individual by two shots at the NCAA Stanford Regional.
“It was a little tough to see everyone, players that I see week in and week out, all out there. I really feel like I gave myself a chance and I didn’t come through. It was tough to see, but it gave me extra motivation to get better.”
When Cal head coach Walter Chun made the trip to Atlanta Athletic Club two weeks ago to watch Morikawa play in the Arnold Palmer Cup, he quickly noticed the results of Morikawa’s post-school practice sessions.
“The thing about Collin is he doesn’t keep a residual effect too long,” Chun said. “He doesn’t let disappointment beat him down. He’s able to turn things around into motivation. When (assistant coach) Eric (Mina) and I got there (at the Palmer Cup), we saw him hit a few bunker shots and we were like, ‘Whoa!’ We hadn’t seen him in a couple of weeks and his short game was so much improved.”
Morikawa, a rising junior for the Bears, won twice last season while posting a school-record 69.94 scoring average. The extra time devoted this summer to improving his wedge game, bunker play and putting has paid dividends. Last week, he lost in a playoff to red-hot Braden Thornberry of Ole Miss at the Sunnehanna Amateur. Then he followed with a victory Saturday at the Northeast Amateur, one of the summer’s premier amateurs events.
The fifth-ranked amateur in the world – and sure to climb after his Northeast victory – Morikawa is building a strong case to make this year’s U.S. Walker Cup team.
“It’d be a great honor to make that team,” said Morikawa, who was invited to the Walker Cup practice session last December at Los Angeles Country Club. “But all you can do is play solid golf. You can’t look back on anything you’ve done. You just have to move forward and get ready for what’s next.”
Chun said one of the most impressive qualities that Morikawa possesses is the ability to keep himself fresh. In January, Morikawa and his family took a 10-day trip to Japan before the spring season started. This July, Morikawa has a vacation planned to Hawaii.
“He could’ve played in anything and everything this summer,” Chun said. “He’s a confident young man and he’s really wise in taking breaks and spreading out his events.”
Morikawa will have ample opportunities to continue adding to his Walker Cup resume. He’ll play the Trans-Miss Amateur, Western Amateur and U.S. Amateur.
And speaking of starts, Morikawa was voted by the players at the Palmer Cup to receive an exemption into next year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. It will be Morikawa’s second PGA Tour start and third pro start overall. He lost in a playoff last summer at the Web.com Tour’s Air Capital Classic and then missed the cut at the PGA Tour’s Safeway Open last fall.
Morikawa said he learned a lot about himself in both events, especially in his Tour debut.
“Being out there for the first time, it rattled me a little bit and made me hit shots that I’m not used to,” Morikawa said. “It helped me realize that it’s just another round.”
Said Chun: “With any young golfer when they get that chance, they have this notion that these guys on the PGA Tour, ‘oh, they’re so good.’ … But what he realized is he’s not that far away from them.”
Chun noticed a big jump in Morikawa’s level of play and maturity when he got back to campus. With Cal having three of its top players redshirting last season, Morikawa took on a major leadership role and led by example, especially in the spring.
“Because we were down three players, it put this onus on Collin that he knew he had to play well every time he tee it up for us have a chance to do well as a team,” Chun said. “And he played phenomenally.”
He’s continued that stellar play into the summer, and he’s putting the USGA’s Walker Cup committee on notice.