The making of Collin Morikawa – the Open champion looking to follow Tiger Woods

As the sun beat down on the 18th fairway at Royal St George’s on Sunday, Collin Morikawa was the coolest man in the house.

Just 24-years-old and striding towards his second major and golf’s oldest and most coveted prize. The hard graft had been done and the LA-born superstar was able to bask in the moment and the adulation of the Kent crowd.

Oozing composure and confidence on the green, Morikawa very nearly sunk a birdie putt from the outer reaches, before tapping in the par to confirm himself as the Champion Golfer of the Year.

Then came the smile. The wide, toothy grin flashing the pearly whites. It’s been seen before, as the youngster stormed to the PGA Championship title in August 2020, albeit with the absence of the masses watching on in person.

This time all eyes were present. And the cheers, and the camera flashes.

Collin Morikawa became the Open champion on his debut appearance in the competition

A seminal moment had fallen upon the golfing world, yet another record broken. Morikawa had become the first player to win two different majors in two debut appearances.

Now, with only the Masters and US Open in his sights for the career clean sweep, serious questions are being asked about how far he can truly go.

Given his current trajectory, Morikawa could well be set to enter Tiger Woods territory. It’s almost mythical stuff, but not out of the realms of possibility.

But what about the man himself? What is his story and which things make him tick in life? Sportsmail took a deeper look… 

With a bogey-free round on Sunday he achieved the title of Champion Golfer of the Year

With a bogey-free round on Sunday he achieved the title of Champion Golfer of the Year

Child prodigy

To peer across many sporting disciplines, a common theme of hardship and struggle can often be identified among many superstars.

Youngsters rising up against adversity and doing everything in their power to make it, and achieve a better way of living in the process.

For Morikawa, this was not quite the case.

Brought up by his humble family, a young Collin spent his formative years in a comfortable environment in southern California.

His parents, Blaine and Debbie, are of Japanese-Chinese descent and part-owned a business running a laundry company.

The commercial-laundry empire, near downtown Los Angeles, is still within the family and delivers linens, tablecloths and household items to local restaurants.

Morikawa and his younger brother, Garrett, were well looked after. 

At a young age it quickly became clear Morikawa (right) had a divine gift when it came to swinging a golf club: Pictured with his younger brother Garrett

At a young age it quickly became clear Morikawa (right) had a divine gift when it came to swinging a golf club: Pictured with his younger brother Garrett

Speaking to Golf digest earlier in the year, Morikawa outlined: ‘We never had to think about money growing up.

‘Never had to think about what we were having for dinner. I wasn’t a kid that wanted many things; I never asked for a lot. But if I did need something or I did want something, I was very lucky to have parents who were able to afford stuff like that.’

This middle class setting made for the perfect conditions. Morikawa was able to develop his fascination and infatuation with the endlessly complex game that is golf, and his family were able to nurture and support his efforts.

It wasn’t long before it became abundantly clear the youngster had a gift.

Childhood holidays to Hawaii, to visit his fraternal grandparents, would allow Morikawa to experience the sport differently playing at an assortment of course, while also honing his skills back home at the Chevy Chase Country Club, a private nine-hole layout in Glendale.

When Morikawa was just five, his parents convinced the organizers of a junior golf camp at Scholl Canyon to let their son participate, and it quickly became apparent that his golf swing mechanics were far superior than any other infants in his age bracket.

Naturally, golf coaches took a keen interest. From there the snowball effect began, as more and more people wanted to work with Morikawa and the youngster improved exponentially as a result.

Morikawa soon met instructor Rick Sessinghaus and the pair formed a close bond. The raw potential fascinated the PGA teacher, and he soon had the young Californian all over the golf course, hitting balls from a variety of lies in a host of different weather conditions.

High flying all-American

Morikawa’s rise through the junior ranks was rapid, and it came as no surprise that the offers of sporting scholarships were piling up in his later adolescent years.

With a string of victories in youth events under his belt, Morikawa was a hot commodity.

He would later admit: ‘I was able to really look at the entire country and say, OK, this is where I want to go.

‘My mom went to USC, so I grew up a Trojan fan. The Pac-12 was always in my blood. I always viewed the Pac-12 as the best.’

After narrowing down his options throughout California state, Morikawa opted for Cal-Berkeley, and wasted little time in stamping his authority as the University’s most competent and well rounded golfing star.

Balancing golf with his studies, Morikawa graduated from Berkeley with a business degree

Balancing golf with his studies, Morikawa graduated from Berkeley with a business degree

In June 2016 he won the prestigious Sunnehanna Amateur with a final-round 62 and a sharp rise into the serious sporting sphere was to begin.

After winning the Trans-Mississippi Amateur he narrowly missed out on scooping the Capital Classic after a tense play-off, but Morikawa was quickly faced with the burning conundrum that almost all frighteningly talented golfers have to deliberate over: remain in the education system or turn professional.

There are pros and cons to each. Tiger Woods famously slipped out of Stanford to take the mantle as golf’s leading light, but Morikawa opted to continue diligently with his studies.

He explained to Golf Digest: ‘People have said I’ve been very mature and, yes, I probably could have lived on my own. 

‘But I didn’t go to a school like Cal to play one year, have some good results and leave. Just wasn’t my mind-set.’

As a result, he majored in business and received a prestigious degree from the university which he collected in front of his teary and emotional family members.

Balancing his studies with long, labouring hours on the driving range, Morikawa was able to juggle the two and became Cal’s first four-time All-American as a result; a status awarded to a top performing sporting scholar who exceeds the national average, standing way above all their peers.

Morikawa was handed this on each of his four years at Cal-Berkeley, with the establishment later enthusing that he had left an ‘incredible legacy’ behind.

Graduation meant only one thing – the PGA tour beckoned.

In a down-to-earth interview with Berkeley’s inhouse college media, Morikawa spoke brightly about how his business degree would help him understand the intrinsic components of his future – of how to manage his own personal brand as an up and coming golfer and stay abreast of all commercial developments while handling his own affairs.

He was more than ready, and the golfing world knew it was to soon be receiving a star. Morikawa, though, was still yet to serve up more surprises.

Major maestro with home comforts

Many players ease themselves into the big time. Not Morikawa.

The youngster graduated with his peers Matt Wolff and Victor Hovland, who each has also been making huge waves in the amateur ranks.

Hovland had been the top performing amateur at Augusta in 2019, when Tiger Woods shocked the world by winning the Masters and returning to the top table.

Seeing his friend Hovland sat in Butler Cabin alongside Woods, Morikawa’s determination to hit the big time heightened.

Morikawa's girlfriend of four years, Katherine Zhuu, is a fellow golf lover and food enthusiast

Morikawa’s girlfriend of four years, Katherine Zhuu, is a fellow golf lover and food enthusiast

Life was good for the Californian. Sponsorship requests were flooding in and his golf game was in great flow. The foundations to really go and challenge the big boys were very much in place.

Morikawa also had a stable base to lean upon, with his long-term girlfriend Katherine Zhuu by his side. Matters were helped greatly by the fact she also happened to be golf obsessed.

Morikawa first met Zhu, a player on the Pepperdine women’s golf team, during his early years at University.

As their relationship grew, Morikawa was quick to point to her influence and presence as the reason why he started to win events more frequently and with greater ease.

‘Out on tour, it’s a very lonely life,’ Morikawa told reporters after clinching a win in 2019. 

‘Everyone will tell you, at parts of their career, they’ve been lonely. Having her travel with me, we’ve been able to explore new cities, have good dinners. 

‘I’ve just been able to relax, not to stress about the next day so much.’

The young couple enjoy the simple things in life, and take great enjoyment from fostering rescue dogs before allowing them to be re-homed.

One only has to take a glance through either of the couple’s social media feeds, to see an array of fluffy friends who seem to reciprocate the affections. 

A self-confessed lover of food, Morikawa has breakfast items stamped into his wedges

A self-confessed lover of food, Morikawa has breakfast items stamped into his wedges

The home comforts have helped Morikawa greatly. They are what make him an everyday guy, and he takes little reminders out onto the golf course with him every day.

For instance, the self-confessed ‘huge foodie’ has each of his Titleist wedges inscribed with different breakfast items, from fried foods to cereals.

It’s a cute touch, and one which he again attributes back to his partner.

When asked about the stamped clubs, a sheepish Morikawa explained to the PGA Tour: ‘So my girlfriend, we love breakfast and we’ve got a little nicknames for each other. 

‘I won’t tell you which one [is mine]… but I’ll tell you her [nickname]; hers is “bacon.” But yeah, we love breakfast. We’re huge foodies. We love going out – and I think that’s what’s great about the PGA TOUR is you get to travel to so many great places and find some really good food. 

‘It just happened to be that we wanted to put some breakfast [items on the wedges] and we got some good combinations on there. 

‘We forgot some cereal names; I think that might be on a new wedge. But yeah, we do love our food and we definitely can’t get enough.’

Reading the likes of ‘bacon’ or ‘sourdough toast’ may be enough of a trigger to give many a golfer the hunger pangs out on the course, but Morikawa’s appetite when inside the ropes is that only for major honours.

Zhuu's social media feed contains an array of furry friends

The dogs appear to reciprocate all the affections Zhuu and Morikawa send their way

Morikawa and his partner enjoy fostering shelter dogs and helping them to be re-homed

And, in August 2020 amid a global pandemic, this long-standing aim would become a reality.

TPC Harding Park in San Francisco played host to a remarkable battle between Morikawa and world No.1 Dustin Johnson in the PGA Championship.

The fresh-faced youngster was taking on the bearded master, and would come out on top in the most dramatic of circumstances. 

Finishing with a final round six under par, Morikawa collected his first major and lifted the Wanamaker trophy aloft with an overall score card of -13 and a two-stroke victory.

Without the roars and whistles of a live audience, Morikawa was still able to contain his nerves and produce a quite stunning eagle on the par 4 16th by driving the green and sinking a distance putt, breaking in both directions.

It signified something special. And, many fans posited, surely another major would follow soon. 

The two-time major winner also has canine club covers to reflect his passion for animals

The two-time major winner also has canine club covers to reflect his passion for animals

The Champion Golfer of the Year

And so to Sandwich, on the leafy Kent coastline.

If anybody ever needs to know about the flexibility and overall competence of Morikawa’s game, they need only refer back to this competition.

On a notoriously difficult links course, Morikawa rode with the waves of good old fashioned British golf and tamed the rolling dunes, heavy gorse and sun-baked fairways of Royal St George’s.

Previous major winners Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau had already complained about the venue aplenty, but Morikawa quickly cut through the noise and zoned in on the task at hand.

Tracking down Oosthuizen with a vengeance, Morikawa soon changed the narrative that the South African was about to win his second Open championship, 11 years to the exact day of his first.

Morikawa stared lovingly at the famous Claret Jug after winning golf's oldest major event

Morikawa stared lovingly at the famous Claret Jug after winning golf’s oldest major event

While the resurgent Jordan Spieth was also firmly knocking on the door, Morikawa provided a masterclass workshop in terrifyingly consistent golf.

Decision-making on the tee; flawless. Iron play; flawless. Short game; flawless. Putting – often regarded as the most vulnerable element of his game – likewise flawless, despite the best efforts of some ferociously fast greens.

As he did last August, Morikawa was able to place himself above the situation and play calm, almost effortless golf.

Except it was anything but effortless. It was a culmination of years of dedication and hard work, striving forward to break another record and win two different major championship events on his first outing.

He is only the second player to win the Open and the PGA Championship before the age of 25, behind Woods. Likewise, the youngest to win the Open from a trailing position in the final round since the iconic Seve Ballesteros in 1979.

The stats are endless. He is only the 10th player ever to win the Open on their maiden appearance, and the first for 18 years. When it is considered that golf’s oldest tournament was founded in 1860, it becomes all the more impressive.

The golf world is now the youngster's oyster: Picture lifting the Wanamaker trophy with his partner after winning the 2020 US PGA Championship in dramatic style

The golf world is now the youngster’s oyster: Picture lifting the Wanamaker trophy with his partner after winning the 2020 US PGA Championship in dramatic style

Will more majors follow? It would take a brave betting individual to place their stakes against it.

Indeed, the world of golf is Morikawa’s oyster right now. Perhaps that could be the next gourmet food item he stamps on his clubs to celebrate, who knows?

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