There is a flicker of excitement in the dark eyes of Collin Morikawa at the mention of playing golf in Hawaii.
Last week, he played in Maui, finishing tied for seventh in the Sentry Tournament of Champions, on the island where his grandparents were born and once owned a restaurant. This week, the Sony Open in Hawaii takes him to Oahu, where many of his cousins still live.
“We have so many cousins,” he said. “I lose count.”
A little more than a year ago, before the 23-year-old former Cal Bear became the youngest PGA Championship winner, the Maui News wrote a profile of Morikawa and recounted his family’s ties to the 50th state in the union and the restaurant that is part of family lore.
“I wish I knew the name of it, but they did have a restaurant in Lahaina,” Morikawa said in that story that ran on Dec. 27, 2019.
Dave Murphy, a resident of Maui dating to 1983, read the story and felt an immediate connection with Morikawa and turned to the old “Google Machine” for help in solving the mystery of Morikawa’s family restaurant.
“I thought, ‘Well, the logical place to start might be ‘Morikawa,’ so all I did was go online and say ‘Morikawa Restaurant’ and immediately I was taken to eBay where a guy had a book of matches for sale. It was like buy it now for $7.50 or join the auction,” Murphy told the Maui News. “I thought, ‘Well, hey, how cool,’ so I just bought it.”
Murphy turned the matchbox over along with a heartfelt note and some hand-drawn artwork of the matchbox cover to Maui News staff writer Robert Collias in hopes he could get it delivered to Morikawa who had already left for the mainland and the PGA Tour’s West Coast Swing.
Collias FedEx’ed the package to “Mr. Hawaii Golf” Mark Rolfing of NBC Sports/Golf Channel, who passed it on to Andrew Kipper, Morikawa’s agent. Consider Morikawa floored by the effort: “It’s amazing. It’s so crazy to see something like that because I didn’t know anything about the restaurant, I had never been to it — it was closed well before I was born,” Morikawa said.
It’s evident that the restaurant, which served local Hawaiian fare – “plate lunches, noodles, all that type of stuff,” Morikawa said – meant a great deal to the family and his father, in particular.
“My dad remembers the food and he wants that type of food, specific certain types of food that just are hard to find,” Morikawa said. “My dad talks about the restaurant every time we’re here, and he misses it. I wish we had it, because how cool would that be to have it on Front Street where every tourist goes pretty much everywhere on Maui now?”
Morikawa remembers visiting his Hawaii relatives every couple of years, usually during summer vacation and he’s been back to the Islands every year since his senior year of high school.
“Now playing out here, you can tell the family ties are just getting stronger and stronger,” he said.
Morikawa, who has three wins in just 38 career Tour starts, would like nothing more than to notch a victory in the Aloha State, which feels to him like a home away from away. He nearly did so at Kapalua last week, shooting a pair of 65s in the middle rounds but struggled on Sunday.
“I’m going to learn from it,” he said. “On a course like that, where guys are making birdie, you have to keep your foot on the pedal, you have to keep making birdies but you have to stay patient.”
Will last week’s failure light a match under his feet this week at Waialae Country Club, a course that should fit his brand of precision play to a tee?
“Any time you have a tie to location or a golf course, whatever it is, it just makes you want to kind of win at that location a little more,” he said. “So hopefully we have a good week.”
Golfweek. . The ties that bind Collin Morikawa to Hawaii ... and the story of a book of matches. Available at: https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/01/12/collin-morikawa-pga-tour-sony-open-family-restaurant/