[PHOTO: Yoshimasa Nakano]

Collin Morikawa is a Los Angeles guy through and through. He was born in Los Angeles, grew up in the suburb of La Canada Flintridge, honed his game at public courses all around the Southland, and bleeds Dodger blue and Laker purple. His Japanese heritage? Considering the great-grandparents on his dad’s side moved to Hawaii decades ago, the golfer admits he hadn’t thought about much about family lineage until the PGA Tour started playing the Zozo Championship in 2019 at Accordia Narashino Country Club, 100 kilometres east of Tokyo.

Even during this week at the Zozo, as Morikawa moved into contention, he downplayed what it might mean for him to win in Japan. “Look,” he said, “a win’s a win. I’ll take it anywhere, right?”

Spoken like a man who hadn’t lifted a trophy on the PGA Tour since July 2021, when the 26-year-old captured his second major in his inaugural Open Championship start at Royal St George’s. Morikawa also won the DP World Tour Championship in late ’21, but since then had some big misses on Sundays, with four runner-up finishes, including blowing a six-shot lead at the 2023 season-opening Sentry Tournament of Champions and falling over the northern summer in a playoff in the Rocket Mortgage Classic, where Rickie Fowler ended his own long dry spell.

As it turned out, Morikawa’s six-shot victory on Sunday in the Zozo—forged with a nearly flawless seven-under 63—created deep satisfaction for the world No.20 on numerous levels. He snapped his winless streak in his last official tour start of ’23, created tremendous confidence heading into the new year, and cemented his standing as yet another hero in Japan golf.

Consider the small island country’s golf bounty of late: Tiger Woods won the inaugural Zozo Championship in 2019 for his record-tying 82nd victory; Hideki Matsuyama captured the 2021 Masters, and later that year Xander Schauffele, with Japanese heritage, won the gold medal in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. And then Matsuyama seized the 2021 Zozo in its return to his home country after the pandemic.

A player of Morikawa’s stature again winning the Zozo only further solidifies the tournament’s worldwide standing.

Collin Morikawa celebrates winning the Zozo Championship with his wife, Katherine Zhu. [Photo: Yoshimasa Nakano]
“This means the world,” Morikawa of his sixth PGA Tour win, not meaning to create a pun, though he has now won tournaments in England, Dubai and Japan, as well as California, Ohio and Florida.

“It feels so good. I can’t even explain it,” added Morikawa, whose 14-under total, after starting the final round two strokes behind, bested the runners-up at eight-under, Beau Hossler (70) and Eric Cole (70). “I knew I was going to get here at some point. It’s like getting your first win, your first major, whatever… people start asking questions, they start asking the ‘Why?’ I really had to look back and ask myself what’s wrong. What is the ‘Why’? What’s the reason behind finishing second or fifth versus a win.”

Some would say the troubles continued to be with Morikawa’s putting. A superior ball-striker who ranked second in Strokes Gained/Approach heading into this week, Morikawa has always been a streaky putter, and this year was no different. He entered the Zozo ranked 112th in Strokes Gained/Putting, losing 0.109 strokes to the field per round.

On Wednesday this week, he went straight from his pro-am round to the practice green, where Morikawa said he spent more than two hours “grinding” on his putting. “Just trying to figure out how to read these greens,” he said today. “How to get a little more consistency, take out of a few variables. [I] texted a couple of buddies on certain little things, and it was nice to see it click like that.”

Click it did, with Morikawa draining a field-best 24 birdies while ranking second in putts per green in regulation. That, combined with tying for third in GIR (73.61 percent), and it was one of those weeks that Morikawa seemed destined to dominate.

After opening with a 64, but then struggling to a 73 in the wind-blown second round, Morikawa did have an early stumble on Saturday. He drove next to a tree on the first hole and had to punch out in eventually suffering a double-bogey. After another bogey with a three-putt at the fourth, Morikawa was nine shots off the lead.

But over the final 32 holes, he shot 14-under in a stretch that included him closing with five birdies over his last six holes in a third-round 66. On Sunday, Morikawa seized control with four birdies on a front nine of 30 and cruised in with three more birdies, including one very satisfying roll into the cup on the last.

“It just got to the point today, if I put good speed on it, the ball is going to have a great chance to go into the hole,” Morikawa said.

It doesn’t get much better than finishing the year on such a high note. Morikawa’s wife, Katherine Zhu, stood quietly greenside with a smile on her face as he finished up. The couple are approaching their one-year wedding anniversary on November 26 and plan to spend a couple of weeks on holiday.

At some point, they may happily hum the Imagine Dragons tune played as their wedding processional. It’s called “On Top of the World”.