When it comes to professional golfers, each player has carved his own unique path to the PGA Tour. There’s the prodigy, the journeyman, the can’t-miss kid… and then there’s Collin Morikawa, the patient one.
Morikawa patiently spent all four years playing and studying at Cal-Berkley, despite showing his game was ready for the pros at age 19, when he lost a playoff in a Web.com Tour event. That patience is already paying off for the former world No. 1 amateur in his first few events as a professional.
After turning pro, Morikawa successfully made it through sectional qualifying to book his place at the U.S. Open. He followed that up with a T15 at the RBC Canadian Open, his first start as a pro, and backed it up with top-40 finishes at the Open and the Travelers Championship.
SI.com’s Ryan Asselta recently sat down with the 22-year-old from Los Angeles, who’s trying to join the small list of players that have secured their PGA Tour cards through sponsors exemptions. He’s young, talented and extremely confident: “I know I can win on Tour right now.”
Ryan Asselta: The last few weeks seem like they’ve been a whirlwind for you. How does it feel to be a professional golfer?
Collin Morikawa: If I were to describe it in one word: Amazing! To be out here on the PGA Tour, especially during the summer, is a dream come true. I’m just trying to get to know a lot of the guys out here.
This month has been kind of chaotic. We went to NCAA nationals and then I go straight home for sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open.
I then go to play in the RBC Canadian Open and then the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. It’s been so much fun.
RA:How do you balance the emotions? The emotions of “I've made it, I’m finally a professional” versus “I haven't done anything yet at this level.”
CM: When you step foot into your first professional tournament, everything you've done in your amateur career really doesn't matter any more. I just want to make something out of it. I have goals obviously each week, but I also have bigger picture goals, for the end of this summer. To get my PGA Tour card and really make something out of these starts.
It's a learning process and a lot of these guys had been out here for a long time and they know what works and I got to just find what works for me every single week.
RA: You mentioned getting to know these guys and learning that they're just regular guys. I heard you had dinner with Justin Thomas recently. What advice did JT give you?
CM: He was awesome. I had never met him and didn't really know much about him outside of golf.
His advice to me was: Don’t worry about missing cuts and making cuts. This is all about learning and especially this small summer start. I'm very lucky to be out here with these guys on these sponsor exemptions.
I just need to keep working. Everyone has different high points, and everyone has different low points. Obviously the past couple of weeks have been validating, to a point, to just know that I can compete out here, but everyone takes their own amount of time to reach their goals.
I’ve leaned on the Cal guys a lot. Michael Kim, Max Homa, Brandon Hagy—I’ve been playing with these guys for a long time.
RA: You made the decision to stay patient and complete your education at Cal Berkley. You held off on turning pro. What went into making that decision? And how hard was it for you?
CM: Well, I mean it was hard. I think one of the hardest times was when I almost won a Web.com tour event in 2016 after my freshman year. I lost in a playoff to Ollie Schniederjans and J.J. Spaun. I mean, who knows what could've happened if I’d won? I played well during my sophomore and junior years and all along I knew that academics was important to me. I knew what I wanted to do. I wasn't going to stay five years like a lot of guys do. I was going to do four and get my business degree.
I learned so much just playing golf and meeting so many new people at Cal, just friends and support groups that I'll just have forever.
RA: How much did staying four years at Cal help you mature?
CM:I matured a lot. I think of myself as pretty mature already but as the years at Cal went on, I got to spend a lot of time with the coaches and the team. You end up with different roles and you have to be a leader to some people when you get older.
I think that’s why I feel like I'm ready to be out here, on Tour. You know, it's lonely out here. I'm very lucky to have my girlfriend out on Tour with me, but it's a lot to handle, you know?
I'm trying to move to Vegas and I have a house ready, but I haven't even had time to move in yet.
RA: You grew up playing golf in California. Did you play other sports growing up as a kid?
CM: Yeah. I was huge on basketball and baseball. I love sports. I’m an L.A. guy. I love the Lakers and Dodgers
I quit pretty early though because I knew golf was what I wanted to do. I quit when I was like 11 or 12 years old, but I mean, I'll always go home and get with the guys to play some pickup games.
I was definitely way too short to play basketball. But baseball, man I loved playing baseball in the winter. I almost dropped playing golf to go play baseball. It was hard but I know I needed and wanted to play golf. I just love playing out here. I was talking with one of the Tour pros practicing the other day and we both said we have to be just a little bit crazy to be out here playing golf. But we just love it so much.
RA: Did you have someone you looked up to in the game of golf growing up?
CM: I mean, obviously Tiger Woods. I think everyone my age watched him and watched his highlights. Knowing what he’s done for the game and now seeing him out here is amazing. My dream was always to be able to get out here on Tour while Tiger was still competing. Luckily I’m here and he’s playing amazing.
Overall my parents have been the biggest support system I have. They’re always out here or watching leaderboards at home following along. I think my mom gets nervous when I’m fatigued from traveling around so much.
RA: Have you met Tiger yet?
CM: I have not. I’m with the same management group as Tiger. Excel. They are great. Hopefully I can meet Tiger soon.
RA: Can you win right now on the PGA Tour?
CM: Absolutely. I 100% believe I can. I don't know if other people do, but I believe I can. I didn’t play really well in Canada and I was in contention. I think if I put together four straight days of good golf, I definitely think I can win.
I know I can shoot low scores out here. I’m very confident. If you can’t believe in yourself, you’re already five steps behind and in a big hole. Out here, everyone is so good and all of these guys can win on any given day. I want to be able to compete every single week. It’s not going to be great every single week but I want to give myself a chance. In college my game got to that level, where I was competing to win every week. Out on the PGA Tour is a different level, but I know I can do it.