‘I am who I am’: Collin Morikawa embraces his role as an Asian American athlete


Collin Morikawa of the United States hits a tee shot on the seventh hole during the final round of the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco on Aug. 9, 2020. Morikawa won his first major title. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Collin Morikawa of the United States hits a tee shot on the seventh hole during the final round of the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco on Aug. 9, 2020. Morikawa won his first major title. (Kyodo)

For a second, Collin Morikawa didn’t even smile.

Leaning over to pick up his ball after a short putt on the final hole at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, it looked like the conclusion of any other round of golf.

Then, he broke into a huge smile.

“I’m on cloud nine, I don’t know about you guys,” he said during his post-match interview.

Morikawa, playing in just his second major tournament, came out on top of a packed field Aug. 9 to win the PGA Championship by two strokes. His final round score of 64 was the lowest final round by a winner since Australian Steve Elkington shot the same score in 1995.

The 23-year-old, who became the third-youngest PGA Championship winner behind Jack Nicklaus and Rory McIlroy, separated himself from the pack with a beautiful tee-shot on hole 16 that allowed Morikawa to eagle and gain the space that carried him to the trophy.
“I had to hit a good shot,” he said. “I was tied with Paul (Casey) after he just made birdie, and you know, what a drive that was on 16.”

Morikawa’s breakout win happened just 20 miles from the University of California, Berkeley, where a mere 15 months earlier he had been a college student and amateur golfer. For those who know him, though, Morikawa’s success has been a long time coming.

Morikawa grew up in La Cañada, Calif. just a few miles north of Pasadena. Morikawa, who is of Japanese and Chinese descent, says most of his family on his father’s side are from Hawai‘i, where many of them still live.

However, it was in California that Morikawa’s golf career took off. His father, Blaine, introduced him to the sport when he was 8 years old, and under the tutelage of Rick Sussinghaus, he emerged as a golf prospect after a strong performance at the Western Junior Championship in 2013.

His strong play earned him offers from several colleges and, in the end, Morikawa had narrowed his choices down to Stanford; the University of California, Los Angeles; University of Southern California; and UC Berkeley. Influenced by the 2012 Cal men’s golf team and searching for what he felt was the overall best experience, Morikawa chose the Golden Bears, and he racked up awards in the East Bay.

During his four years at Cal, he was named an All-American every season and made the first-team three times. Morikawa was tempted to leave following his junior season, as he felt his golf game was ready for the pro level, but ultimately returned for one more year to finish his bachelor’s degree in business administration.

It turned out to be a good decision, because he had his best season as a senior. Morikawa finished sixth at the NCAA championships and was named Pac-12 Men’s Golfer of the Year in 2018. However, it was the camaraderie in Berkeley that he appreciated the most.

“I’m very thankful for me ending up at Cal,” he said during the Oct. 26 interview with former broadcast journalist Jan Yanehiro, which was presented by the U.S.-Japan Council. “The team was amazing. We didn’t always play our best coming down the stretch at Nationals some years but that’s OK, and I made brothers. I made a family for life.”

Family was a recurring theme for Morikawa in college. During one of his winter breaks, he and his family took a trip to Japan. It was the first time any of them had been to the country, and Morikawa called it, “By far, it was my favorite trip ever.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt that connection,” he said. “Yes, I’m Japanese and I have a lot of heritage — Japanese heritage. But I’d never felt a connection like that. I’ve lived in America my entire life … It’s not like I had any relatives back there where I could talk to them and learn more about my heritage.

“But, when you go over there … there’s an instant connection. And that was something I had never felt.”

Morikawa’s new understanding about himself and his identity have also helped him become more comfortable as a role model. He said he understands the responsibility that comes with being a visible, Asian American athlete. It’s a duty he is excited to take on, despite his age.

“Yes, I’m 23 and I feel like a kid but I get it,” he said. “A lot of kids might be looking up to me, and I hope that’s the case because I do want to be a role model like the other role models I looked up to being a young kid wanting to play golf or play sports.”

Part of his new responsibilities as a role model have gone beyond the golf green, though. As an athlete of color with a platform, he’s been expected to talk about race, both within his sport and outside of it. Before speaking, however, Morikawa says he has been focused on listening and educating himself first.

“If we’re not learning from what we’ve seen over the past handful of months, I don’t think we’re doing our job,” he said. “Does it mean you have to say something every time something comes up? Not necessarily. But if you’re learning, that’s the biggest thing.”

Since winning the PGA Championship in August, he tied for 44th at the Masters and played in the Race to Dubai in the PGA European Tour. He also continues to enjoy traveling and eating food with his girlfriend and family.

As he continues his meteoric rise in the golf world, Morikawa continues to prove he belongs on the golf course, and stand out as a role model for both golfers and Asian Americans alike, confident in his own identity.

“I am who I am,” he said.

One response to “‘I am who I am’: Collin Morikawa embraces his role as an Asian American athlete”

  1. Kathleen Lee Avatar
    Kathleen Lee

    Congratulations on your good play today and your wonderful finish! I am an 81 year old mother that loves golf and the MASTERS! Live in Orlando have been blessed to have visited the masters. Good luck to you and keep up your good golf!

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