Cal Golf: Collin Morikawa Won't Avoid Spotlight Leading into the U.S. Open

Plenty of other storylines at Torrey Pines, but the ex-Cal star is on everyone's radar.
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I had the idea over the weekend that Collin Morikawa might benefit from all the attention sure to be directed at others this week at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines outside San Diego.

Surely, Phil Mickelson would have the spotlight in his 30th attempt to win the only major to elude him during his impressive career. And weeks after becoming the oldest winner of a major with his victory at the PGA Championship would only ratchet up the interest.

Jon Rahm certainly would be a major topic of conversation after being forced out of the Memorial with a six-stroke lead through three rounds two weeks ago when he tested positive for COVID-19. Rahm makes his return this week as one of the favorites.

And what could be more tantalizing than the budding feud between Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau — the PGA meets MMA. Alas, officials opted against pairing the two in the same group for Thursday and Friday.

As it turns out, Morikawa is simply too good to ignore. Although he is listed at 22-to-1 to win — well behind Rahm and Dustin Johnson, per the Vegas oddsmakers — the 24-year-old Cal grad will hardly sneak onto Torrey Pines unnoticed.

Golf Digest’s Daniel Rapaport assembled a story ranking the top 100 golfers entered at the Open, and Morikawa is No. 2.

The same publication’s seven staff members were asked to pick a winner and while Koepka was the choice of three of them, Rick Gehman tabbed Morikawa.

Tee times were announced Tuesday and Morikawa will start on the 10th hole Thursday in a grouping with Koepka and Justin Thomas, going off at 7:29 a.m. PT.

Max Homa, the only other former Cal golfer in the field, will tee off on the 10th at 7:51 a.m. PT, alongside Mickelson and Xander Schauffele.

Here’s more on Cal’s two entries into the U.S. Open:

Golf Digest Gives Morikawa Serious Respect

Golf Digest’s Rapaport rates Koepka as his clear favorite, citing his two previous U.S. Open titles and the fact that he has finished tied for seventh or better in 10 of his past 14 majors.

But he has Morikawa next on his list of top-100, one spot ahead of Rahm and three rungs higher than Johnson:

2. Collin Morikawa
Age: 24 World ranking: 4 U.S. Open appearances: 2
Best U.S. Open finish: T-35, 2019
He is the premier iron player in the world, and the gap between him and everyone else seems to be widening. At 24, he comports himself more like he’s 34, leads the tour in strokes gained/tee to green for the season—and get this: his lead over No. 2 in that stat (Justin Thomas) is larger than Thomas’ lead over No. 30, Hank Lebioda. Morikawa is also the tour’s leader in SG/approach over his last 50 rounds … and his last 36 rounds … and his last 24 rounds … and his last 12 rounds … and his last eight rounds. The ball-striking is so dependably machine-like that his chances in any tournament hinge almost entirely on his putting, the Achilles heel that’s kept from reaching World No. 1. He lost at least 1.3 shots in each of his three starts prior to the Memorial and still managed to finish T-7 (RBC Heritage), T-8 (PGA Championship) and T-14 (Charles Schwab Challenge); he then putted well at the Muirfield Village (plus 5.4 shots for the week) and lost in a playoff. It’s as simple as this: If he putts well, he will almost certainly a chance to win. Switched to a “saw” putting grip earlier this year and had mixed results, then switched from a mallet to a blade—a similar one to the wand he used in his win at the 2020 PGA, where he led the field in putting—and looked much more confident with that at the Memorial. Finished T-21 at the Farmers in 2020 and will feel right at home on the kikuyu/Poa combo at Torrey, which he’s familiar with from growing up in Los Angeles and playing his college golf at Cal-Berkeley.

Homa Creating Some Noise, Too

Homa is enjoying his most successful season on the PGA Tour, which did not go unrewarded by Golf Digest’s Rapaport:

25. Max Homa
Age: 30 World ranking: 40 U.S. Open appearances: 2
Best U.S. Open finish: MC, 2013, 2020
Los Angeles-area native played some really consistent golf to start the year, culminating in an emotional home-town win at the Genesis Invitational, but he’s been super hot and cold since. Like, frustratingly so. His last seven starts: MC/T-18/MC/T-6/MC/MC/T-6. Clearly, his good is good enough to contend against top-level fields, but his bad has been pretty awful recently—shot a combined 21 over par at the Wells Fargo and the PGA only to rebound with a T-6 in his last start at the Memorial. SoCal roots make him comfortable on kikuyu and Poa greens, and he finished T-21 or better in all four of his California starts on the West Coast Swing, including a T-18 at the Farmers. He’s on the precipice of stardom, but to be a star, you need to perform in the majors, and he simply has not: in seven career starts, he’s got six missed cuts and a T-64.

CBS Sports Focuses on Morikawa Twice

Kyle Porter of CBS Sports included Morikawa in two pre-tournament stories he wrote this week: Nine golfers to root for at Torrey Pines and 10 best storylines.

He positioned Morikawa at No. 8 in the first of those:

CBS on Morikawa

And he ranked him No. 5 among storylines to follow:

5. 5-0 for Collin Morikawa: The U.S. Open is Morikawa's 50th career PGA Tour start. If he wins, his collection over the first 50 will include five victories, two majors and two losses in playoffs at other events. In other words, it will be one of the most successful starts to a career in the modern era. This just does not happen. To put it in perspective, Tiger won six times (one major) in his first 50 starts on the PGA Tour (to be fair, several of those were as a teenage amateur). We are underrating Morikawa's resume to date, but if he takes either of the two remaining majors this year, it's going to be time to elevate him into a category where we're thinking about him less like his contemporaries and more in the historical context of guys like Rory McIlroy and Koepka.

U.S. Open betting odds

Courtesy of USA Today, here are odds provided by BetMGM:

  • Jon Rahm +1000 (bet $100 to win $1,000)
  • Dustin Johnson +1400 (bet $100 to win $1,400)
  • Bryson DeChambeau +1800 (bet $100 to win $1,800)
  • Brooks Koepka +1800 (bet $100 to win $1,800)
  • Xander Schauffele +1800 (bet $100 to win $1,800)
  • Jordan Spieth +2000 (bet $100 to win $2,000)
  • Justin Thomas +2000 (bet $100 to win $2,000)
  • Rory McIlroy +2000 (bet $100 to win $2,000)
  • Collin Morikawa +2200 (bet $100 to win $2,200)
  • Patrick Cantlay +2500 (bet $100 to win $2,500)
  • Tony Finau +2500 (bet $100 to win $2,500)
  • Viktor Hovland +2500 (bet $100 to win $2,500)

Cover photo of Collin Morikawa by Michael Madrid, USA Today

Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo