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For PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa, it’s business, not personal

Collin Morikawa celebrates his eagle at the 16th hole Sunday. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Collin Morikawa majored in business administration while playing standout golf at California-Berkeley, and to judge from his remarkable ascent on the PGA Tour, all of his lessons have served him well.

It certainly seems that if there is a phrase that applies to the 23-year-old PGA Championship winner, it is: “This is business, not personal.”

En route to a two-stroke victory over an experienced, star-studded pack that was tightly bunched for most of Sunday’s final round, Morikawa did not take it personally when he eked out a one-shot lead only to see 43-year-old Paul Casey quickly tie him with a birdie at the 16th hole.

Minutes later, Morikawa simply turned his own tee shot at the 336-yard 16th into a signature moment. His drive rolled up onto the green and stopped a mere seven feet from the flag. That left a makeable putt but one that was hardly a gimme, particularly given the stakes.

Even a two-putt would have put Morikawa back into the lead but instead, with businesslike efficiency, he drained his first attempt. Just like that, a tournament that long appeared destined for a playoff consisting of three, four or even more competitors was instead all but decided with two holes to play.

Sorry, Casey. Sorry, Dustin Johnson. Sorry, Jason Day, Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau. Hey, don’t take it personally.

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Morikawa didn’t when he lost a heartbreaker at June’s Charles Schwab Challenge, the Tour’s first full event after a three-month, coronvirus-related hiatus. He missed a six-foot putt that likely would have won the event in regulation, then had a three-footer lip out to give a playoff win to Daniel Berger.

That sequence would haunt many a young player, and Morikawa might have needed a couple of weeks to shake it off, as he proceeded to finish 64th and miss the cut at his next two tournaments. Just four weeks after the loss to Berger, though, Morikawa showed that nothing was going to throw him off his game.

Trailing by three strokes to Justin Thomas with just three holes to play at the Workday Charity Open, Morikawa managed to make up that ground and found himself in another playoff. Again, putting came into play, and it did not look good for Morikawa when Thomas drained a 50-footer on the first hole of the sudden-death format.

Morikawa did not take that ridiculous shot personally. Faced with his own 24-foot attempt to keep the tournament alive, he did what he had to do by sinking the putt, and he went on to defeat the 13-time Tour winner.

Morikawa now has three wins on the Tour, including a major, despite only turning pro in June 2019. He might have gotten going sooner but he waited until after his graduation from Cal’s Haas School of Business and a stellar, four-year career playing for the Golden Bears.

The 2019 Pac-12 Men’s Golfer of the Year, Morikawa was first-team all-conference in each of his four seasons. He was also a three-time Pac-12 all-academic honoree, and his caddie praised the 5-foot-9, 160-pound player earlier this year for his cerebral approach.

“The best thing about him is his head,” J.J. Jakovac said in January (via pgatour.com). “I know the courses, but he thinks like a caddie out there, which is cool. He doesn’t play too conservative; he plays smart. He’s very methodical about the way he plots it around.

“I was saying this to someone,” added Jakovac, who has been on Morikawa’s bag since the start of the latter’s PGA career, “and they said, ‘So he’s like a 10-year veteran.’ I said, ‘He’s better than most of those guys.’ In the mental aspect.”

Morikawa was better than most right off the bat, as he finished tied for second in his fourth Tour event last year, finished tied for fourth a week later and then won the Barracuda Championship in his next start. The cut he missed last month was the first of his career, and it came after he played into the weekend 22 straight times to begin his career, second only to Tiger Woods (25) over the past 30 years.

Morikawa now has as many major championships as cuts missed, and three times as many PGA Tour titles. He joined Rory McIlroy, Woods and Jack Nicklaus — some fairly solid company — as the most recent players to win their first PGA Championship by age 23 (per pgachampionship.com).

In other words, Morikawa has made it his business to excel on the Tour. That’s reflected in his bottom line, which shows him with over $5 million in career earnings after Sunday’s payday of almost $2 million.

Even before his final round at San Francisco’s TPC Harding Park, Morikawa impressed his playing partner on Saturday, Adam Scott. The 2013 Masters winner marveled at how “nothing was really going to faze” Morikawa.

“I like his demeanor on the golf course a lot,” added the 40-year-old Scott (via the New York Post). “There was no weakness. He seems to have it under control."

A Los Angeles-area native, Morikawa took his first golf lessons at age 5, and he began to hone an ability to think his way around a course while playing at a nearby facility that tried to make up for a lack of length with tricky layouts. At the par-67 Chevy Chase Country Club in Glendale, Calif., Morikawa was able to “go around, hit whatever balls, drop 10 balls off a tee, play other holes, make my own holes,” he told the Los Angeles Times last week.

Morikawa’s childhood instructor, Rick Sessinghaus, said in January that “we were doing a lot of our lessons on the course” in those days.

“There’s a lot of great swings out there but not many golfers,” Sessinghaus said of his star pupil. “He learned to play at a high level. Collin’s been wired that way; I’ve tried to cultivate it, raise his golf I.Q. by putting him in different situations.

“He’s going to look at a golf course and create a strategy based on his capabilities. He’s not going to overpower it but can plot his way around based on his strengths.”

All that training came together beautifully Sunday, as the relatively undersized Morikawa left big boppers such as DeChambeau and Johnson looking up at him on the leader board. Perhaps his only unsteady moment came when Morikawa was handed the Wanamaker Trophy, as he shook the prize in celebration only to react with brief alarm when the lid flew off.

If Morikawa was unfamiliar with the trophy, the same could not be said about the course at TPC Harding Park, located approximately 20 miles west of the Cal-Berkeley campus. That may well have given him an extra edge Sunday, if only because it helped him maintain a comfort level amid his preparations for the tournament.

That familiarity also added a very meaningful layer to the breakthrough win.

“To close it out here at a course that I played a dozen times throughout college, it’s really special,” Morikawa said.

In that sense, Morikawa had the best of both worlds Sunday: It was business and it was personal.

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