PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Nine days into his professional career and Collin Morikawa already feels comfortable. Dinner with Justin Thomas. A practice round at Pebble Beach with Rory McIlroy (and one hole with Dustin Johnson). A $125,400 payday in his pro debut at last week’s RBC Canadian Open. Multi-year contracts with TaylorMade and Adidas.
“I’m making sure I do get rest,” he said, though he’s only been home one day since graduation.
The road to Pebble Beach has been a bit of a beautiful blur for the Cal record-setter, with the NCAA Championship quickly followed by U.S. Open sectionals and a T-14 finish in Canada. Morikawa and his girlfriend, Katherine Zhu, who played college golf at Pepperdine, celebrated with Vietnamese Pho.
Then it was back to the familiarity of northern California for his first major start.
Morikawa earned Golfweek’s College Player of the Year honors in 2018 but as a senior spent time in the shadows of Oklahoma State stars Matthew Wolfe and Viktor Hovland. Morikawa ended the 2019 season No. 3 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings. Consistency was the hallmark of his college career, a trait that will serve him well at the next level. He ended his time at Cal the all-time scoring leader with a 69.78 career average. His streak of 16 top-10 finishes ended this spring with a T-14 at NCAA regionals.
“His mental makeup is bar none the best I’ve ever been around because of his maturity, his ability to trust himself, even under pressure,” said swing coach Rick Sessinghaus. “Sometimes he honestly doesn’t feel pressure per se.”
They have a saying – “It’s just golf.”
Sessinghaus first started working with Morikawa when he was only 8 years old. They took a picture together on the range at Pebble Tuesday in between the grind of working out a new wedge. They’re a positive, upbeat pair.
Morikawa spent an hour grooving in a new 60-degree TaylorMade HI-TOE wedge, a club Sessinghaus says is key for the extremes at Pebble – gnarly rough and tight lies.
“Finding a club that he’s comfortable with being able to do both has been the mystery that’s now solved,” said Sessinghaus.
Morikawa’s strength is ball-striking, particularly distance control with his irons. He doesn’t miss many fairways and greens, a massive strength at summer Pebble. He made match play here at last year’s U.S. Amateur.
Zhu played on the China LPGA after graduating from Pepperdine but decided it was going to be too tough for the couple playing two separate tours on opposite sides of the world. She’s going to travel with Morikawa this summer, Yelp-ing their way for good eats in new cities.
“Oh no, I’m not done for good,” she said of her playing career. “It’s just for now.” They plan to move to Las Vegas soon.
Morikawa answers questions with an easy smile and a humble confidence. He has that mysterious “it” quality that is sometimes difficult to explain.
Asked what he would consider a good showing in his major debut, Morikawa said “I hate to say it – winning.”
In 2016, Morikawa played his way into a playoff in his first professional start at the web.com’s Air Capital Classic.
The stage this week isn’t quite the same, but then again neither is the player.