Where EAST meets the Northwest
FORE! Collin Morikawa tees off on the 17th hole during the first round of the
Travelers Championship golf tournament at TPC River Highlands on June 25, 2020,
in Cromwell, Connecticut. The Professional Golfers’ Association quietly resumed
play last month. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
PGA RESTART. Sung Kang of South Korea watches his tee shot from the 15th hole
during the first round of the Travelers Championship golf tournament at TPC
River Highlands on June 25, 2020, in Cromwell, Connecticut. The Professional
Golfers’ Association quietly resumed play last month. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin
PGA RESUMES. Sungjae Im of South Korea lines up his putt on the 15th green
during the first round of the RBC Heritage golf tournament on June 18, 2020 in
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
From The Asian Reporter, V30, #08 (July 6, 2020), pages 9 & 10.
Morikawa leads Asian golfers in PGA restart
By Mike Street
Special to The Asian Reporter
As other professional sports leagues prepare to start, or resume, their
seasons this month, one league quietly returned to play in June. Very quietly.
The Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) picked up where it left off in
March, playing three tournaments in front of empty, silent galleries. While no
athletes with Asian roots won those tournaments, several notable finishes
highlight the present and future of eastern PGA stars.
When COVID-19 shut down the world in early March, the PGA had just completed
the Arnold Palmer Invitational on March 8. At that tournament, athletes with
Asian roots were all over the top ten. South Korean Sungjae Im, age 22, finished
in third place, fizzling during the weekend after a promising start. So far this
season, Sungjae had already won the Honda Classic in March and finished second
in the Sanderson Farms Championship last September.
Behind Sungjae at the Arnold Palmer Invitational sat two other South
Korea-born participants: New Zealand’s Danny Lee tied for fifth place and Sung
Kang, who was tied for ninth with Harris English and Collin Morikawa.
Lee was born in South Korea, but became a citizen of New Zealand after his
parents moved there when he was eight years old. Now in his eighth year on the
PGA Tour, Lee has just one win, back in 2015, and he notched his first
second-place finish this season. Sung Kang has been on the PGA Tour one year
longer than Lee, collecting his first win at the AT&T Byron Nelson in 2019.
Morikawa, a Japanese American with Chinese roots, is the newcomer of the
bunch but he’s got a promising future. Previously ranked as the world’s top
amateur, Morikawa has been on the PGA Tour for just a year, but already picked
up his first Tour win in 2019, in just his eighth start, qualifying him for this
After the Palmer Invitational, the league paused along with the rest of the
sports world to adjust to COVID-19. The PGA cancelled or postponed 12
tournaments, and the season resumed on June 11 with the postponed Charles Schwab
The Charles Schwab Challenge was played to an empty gallery to prevent the
spread of the coronavirus, but the absence of spectators didn’t prevent a
dramatic finish. A tightly packed final round left two players tied at the top
of the leaderboard and six more within two shots of the lead. The two tied for
first were Collin Morikawa and Daniel Berger.
Berger had finished in the top ten of the last three tournaments before the
break, including a fourth-place finish at the Honda Classic. And Morikawa, in
addition to his ninth-place finish before the break, had made 22 consecutive
cuts, the best rookie streak since Tiger Woods.
At the Charles Schwab Challenge, Morikawa had his chances to put away the
win, both before and after the playoff hole. He missed a six-foot birdie on the
18th hole for the win, and then flubbed a three-foot putt on the first playoff
hole to give Berger the victory.
In the next tournament, the RBC Heritage, Berger followed up his win with a
third-place finish, but no Asian or Asian-American players put up competitive
scores. Morikawa kept his cut streak alive, finishing in a tie for 64th, two
strokes ahead of Danny Lee, who finished in a tie for 70th.
The best performance by a player with Asian roots came from Taiwan’s C.T.
Pan. On the Tour since 2017, Pan earned his first win in 2019 — at the RBC
Heritage. But he didn’t play nearly as well this year on the same course,
shooting a nine under to finish tied for 52nd.
June’s final tournament was the Travelers Championship, where a new group of
Asian and Asian-American golfers showed their talent, and others fell by the
wayside. One of the bigger disappointments was Collin Morikawa, who finally
missed his first cut; C.T. Pan and Danny Lee joined him below the cut line.
Several South Korean golfers had good finishes. Sung Kang and Sungjae Im made
the cut but finished in 46th and 58th, respectively. However, Sungjae Im’s
season has been strong enough so far that he sits in third place in the FedEx
Cup rankings despite the weak finish.
Tied with Sung was another South Korean golfer, Byeong Hun An, in his sixth
year on the PGA Tour. And sitting right outside the top ten were South Korea’s
Seung-Yul Noh and Si Woo Kim, who both shot thirteen strokes under par to tie
for 11th, their best finishes this season.
But the best performance from a golfer with Asian roots came from Kevin Na,
the outstanding Korean-American golfer whose name has graced this column before.
Na already notched his fourth career PGA victory this season way back in
October, his third straight year with a Tour win.
At the Travelers Championship, Na displayed excellent consistency, shooting a
66 on each of the first two days, to sit five shots off the pace. He shot a 65
on Saturday, the fifth-best score on the day, but he was still stuck five shots
back. It would take a great Sunday from him and a bad day by the leaders to
allow him to make up that ground.
Na had started each of the first three rounds with a strong front nine,
picking up two strokes each time. But on Sunday, he couldn’t keep up that pace,
balancing a first-hole birdie with a bogey on seven. Even three birdies down the
stretch, including a 23-foot putt on the 18th hole, couldn’t close the gap, so
Na ended his day in fifth place, three shots behind tournament winner Dustin
Just like Sungjae Im, Na is sure to appear on the leaderboard again this
season and perhaps even finish atop one. Even if neither one does, young players
like Collin Morikawa and a bunch of talented South Koreans will ensure that
Asian-American sports fans will have plenty of golfers to follow this PGA season
— and beyond.
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