After working to earn his stripes following a stellar freshman season, Collin Morikawa didn’t want any red flags popping up during his sophomore campaign.
Taking a step back wasn’t an option for Morikawa, a member of the talented La Cañada High boys’ golf team. Unfortunately for Morikawa, he hit a rare rut March 21 during a Rio Hondo League match at La Cañada Country Club, where he finished with a five-over-par 39.
Looking to avoid digging a deeper hole, Morikawa quickly went back to work on different parts of his game and never came close to repeating what took place March 21.
“That was a wake-up call for me,” Morikawa said. “I couldn’t continue to play like that if I wanted to go out there and achieve my goals I set before the season began.
“I knew I made some mistakes in that round, but they were mistakes that I knew I could fix. I learned from that round that there’s always something you can work on in your game.”
Morikawa made the corrections and there was no looking back. He zoomed ahead and helped La Cañada win its ninth Rio Hondo League championship in a row and then promptly captured his second straight league individual championship before enjoying another banner postseason run that saw him nearly advance to the state tournament in Carmel.
Morikawa did everything within his power this season to elevate his concentration level and dazzle on courses around Southern California.
“I’m happy with the season I had, and I set my standards high,” said Morikawa, who was named the All-Area Boys’ Golfer of the Year for the second straight season by the sports editors and writers of the Burbank Leader, Glendale News-Press, La Cañada Valley Sun and Pasadena Sun. “I think my entire game started to come around in the middle of league. That’s when I started to see better results.”
It showed. In 17 matches this season, Morikawa earned a team-best 10 medalist honors.
Morikawa’s short game rarely deserted him. He relied on it heavily throughout, ultimately carrying him to the CIF/Southern California Golf Assn. Qualifier at Brookside Golf Course in Pasadena.
La Cañada Coach Richard Tetu said Morikawa turned things around nicely following the Temple City match.
“He was very consistent the rest of the way through,” Tetu said. “You could see him take it upon himself to keep getting better.
“Before the season began, he got bigger and stronger. He was optimistic about what he could do and he carried himself well and almost made it to state. He’s only going to get better.”
La Cañada senior Noah Bernstein, a four-year varsity athlete, said Morikawa carried himself like a professional on the course.
“He’s as solid as it gets,” Bernstein said. “He’s very dedicated, respectful and he’s amazing when he’s got everything going.
“He drives the ball well and his mental game is sharp. His ability to go out there and grind out a score is what amazes me the most. He’s all business on the course. He’s still got two more years left [in high school] and he will continue to make a name for himself.”
Morikawa displayed his championship pedigree during the league tournament at Marshall Canyon Golf Club in La Verne. Morikawa opened with a two-under-par 69 to share the lead following the first round before coming back to register a final-round score of 65 for a two-round tally of 134.
On the final round, Morikawa posted eight birdies to win the competition by seven strokes.
“The scores were a lot closer than last year,” Morikawa said. “There were a lot of guys on my tail this time around.
“I had to go out there and turn it on toward the end of the last round. Both league titles are special. Winning back to back is hard in anything. I knew coming in that the field would be a lot better and the scores would be lower.”
After celebrating the league championship, Morikawa shifted his attention to the postseason. By winning the league championship, La Cañada participated in the CIF Southern Section Northern Team Divisional at Soule Park Golf Course in Ojai. The Spartans entered the season with state championship aspirations, led by a collection of talent that featured Morikawa, Joshua Suh and Robby Stehlin, but saw that fizzle after recording a fifth-place finish.
The outing wasn’t a complete letdown for Morikawa, who fired an even-par 72.
“It was tough not advancing as a team,” Morikawa said. “We missed by two spots of moving on, but we win and lose as a team.”
With the Spartans no longer a part of the state equation, Morikawa prepared as an individual for the remainder of the postseason.
Morikawa returned to Ventura County, where he took part in the CIF Southern Section Northern Individual Regional at River Ridge Golf Club's par-72 Vineyard Course in Oxnard.
He carded a 73 to finish in a seven-way tie for fifth and was one of 34 from the field to move on to the CIF Southern Section Individual Championship at La Purisima Golf Course in Lompoc.
At Lompoc, Morikawa fought off the harrowing winds to finish at two-over-par 74 to tie for 10th. He was one of 28 from the event to qualify for the CIF/Southern California Golf Assn. Qualifying Tournament at Brookside.
Morikawa’s playoff journey ended at the qualifier, but he went out fighting and gaining valuable experience in the process.
Morikawa shot an even-par 72, capped by him recording an eagle. Morikawa wasn’t sure if he would be among the top nine from the field to advance to the state tournament. He was one of the first to finish the round, forcing him to wait to see if his season would extend north.
He finished in a three-way tie for 19th, falling one stroke short of being part of an eight-way playoff for one of the final four state spots.
Morikawa never stopped learning while strolling down the postseason path.
“Basically, none of the playoff rounds that I played in were easy,” Morikawa said. “You learn each time that you have to go out there and fight through everything.
“There were times when I found birdies and an eagle. I went out there trying to prove to myself that I can play. I got farther this year than last year. I know things that I need to work on for next year and I will. I want to be even better."