La Cañada’s Collin Morikawa makes a name for himself

(Roger Wilson/Staff Photographer)

Collin Morikawa carried a buzz with him when he transitioned from La Cañada High 7/8 to the high school this past summer. It was no secret what the freshman could do on a golf course.

La Cañada’s Daniel Rhee, who will be one of the Spartans senior captains next year, knew of Morikawa from junior tournaments the two played in together — albeit in different age groups — and saw it as a forgone conclusion that Morikawa would be a leader in his debut season.

“I would always see him winning every other tournament he was playing in so I knew he was good,” Rhee said of Morikawa, who turned 15 this year. “I didn’t realize he was going to be a freshman this year until one of my teammates told me there was a really good freshman coming in. I had high expectations for him and he met those.”

Even with the hype, it’s hard not to be impressed with what Morikawa accomplished in 2012. He became the first freshman to ever win the Spartans’ most valuable player award after he led La Cañada to the Rio Hondo League and De Bell Invitational team titles, while capturing both individual championships himself, and posted a team-best 34.1 nine-hole scoring average, which was more than two strokes better than second-place Joshua Suh (36.2).

“I didn’t realize he was going to be a statistical leader,” La Cañada Coach Richard Tetu said. “I knew he was an experienced golfer and I heard the kids talk about him and a couple of teachers in his eighth grade classes, who I knew from golf personally, said he was a good player, but I didn’t think he would be as outstanding as he was.”

Morikawa’s freshman season earned him the 2012 All-Area Boys’ Golfer of the Year accolade, as voted by the sports editors and writers of the Burbank Leader, Glendale News-Press, La Cañada Valley Sun and Pasadena Sun. The Spartans have swept the award the past four seasons with Morikawa being the only underclassmen in that span.

“I guess I feel different [from other freshmen],” Morikawa said. “I know I have friends who are freshmen on other varsity teams, but I had to really work my way up there. Hopefully other people see that and just try to work as hard to get on that team.”

There’s no secret to Morikawa’s success, it’s pretty evident to whoever sees him play a round.

“It’s definitely hitting the fairway and getting on a lot of greens,” Morikawa said. “I try to hit a lot of greens and hit a lot of fairways. I am starting to work on my putting. If I start making putts I am going to go a lot lower and I can even play better.”

While it’s a simple philosophy, it’s easier said than done.

“He is never out of play and he is a really steady golfer, I would say,” Rhee said of Morikawa. “All his shots are basically the same and his putting is above par and that’s all we basically need from him because he always hits it really close [to the hole].”

Tetu referred to the Rio Hondo League Individual Tournament, which took place May 2 and 3, as an example of Morikawa’s consistency and ability to manage a course. The freshman earned medalist honors each day with a pair of three-under-par 68s to win the league’s two-round tournament.

“I was just focused and ready to play golf,” said Morikawa, whose two-round score (136) was eight strokes better than teammate and second-place finisher Suh (144). “I just wish I can bring that to every time I play golf.”

Even with all the regular season success, Morikawa feels he could have done more this past year, particularly in the postseason. He missed the top-28 cut for the CIF/Southern California Golf Assn. Qualifying Tournament when he shot a six-over-par 78 at the CIF Southern Section Individual Final on May 21.

“I am definitely going to try to lower my scoring average and try to beat that each year,” said Morikawa, who advanced out of the first round of CIF Individuals along with Suh, a sophomore, with a 72 and 77, respectively. “Individually for CIF, I just got to try to keep going farther.”

Morikawa also carded an uncharacteristic 78 when La Cañada tied for ninth with a 391 and was eliminated in the CIF Southern Section Northern Team Divisional May 7.

The Spartans, who return Noah Bernstein, Rhee, Suh and Morikawa and welcome three talented underclassmen, have already set advancing out of the Northern Team Divisionals as a goal for next season.

“We’ve got our starting four coming back again next year so hopefully some people comes up for next year and we try to get past that first round,” Morikawa said.

Tetu is a little more bold with his predictions of future success for the Spartans.

“I see us going deep in the playoffs next year and I think in two or three years we’ll be competitive for the state championship with all those players playing the way they are,” he said.

The future is just as bright, if not brighter, for Morikawa’s career, even looking beyond high school.

“I’ll bet you he improves a full shot a year until he graduates,” Tetu said. “He is going to have a high school career statistically that’s several shots better than any kid I’ve had before.”

Tetu didn’t hesitate to compare Morikawa to two of his previous golfers, David Lipsky and Anton Arboleda. Lipsky enjoyed a standout career at Northwestern University and is now playing on the Asian Tour, while Arboleda just finished his sophomore season with UCLA.

“Those are the three best golfers I’ve had and Collin, in terms of his impact on the team, I’d have to rank his tops,” Tetu said.

The buzz around Morikawa just continues to build, as he prepares for his sophomore year, as Tetu said he’s already received “inquiries” from some NCAA Divsion I schools, including UCLA.

“He is certainly known in Southern California,” Tetu said of Morikawa. “He’s got the determination, the family support, the grades and I predict by his junior year he is going to be able to pick and choose where he wants to go to school for golf.”