KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — The fee was in the neighborhood of $80 per hour. That is what Rick Sessinghaus charged all the junior golfers at the executive course he worked at in Glendale, California. And yes, that included a very young Collin Morikawa.
The reigning PGA Championship winner was just 8 years old at the time he started working with his teacher, a relationship that has lasted to this day, through junior and college golf and his fast transition into the professional game — and four PGA Tour victories, including a major championship.
“Typically what people did was they’d buy a series of six lessons to lower the price to $60 an hour,” Sessinghaus said. “What’s funny about Collin is we kept the fee the same all the way through college, and sometimes I didn’t really charge him because as he won and got better, I just wanted to support him in any way I could.”
Needless to say, the arrangement is quite different now. Morikawa, 24, is a budding star, barely two years out of college. His victory at TPC Harding Park last August came in his first attempt playing the PGA Championship. It was just his third major championship start.
Coaches come and go. So do caddies, agents, trainers and all manner of team members for a successful player. But Sessinghaus has been by Morikawa’s side for 16 years.
And a big part of Sessinghaus’ philosophy covers the mental side of the game and coaching on the course. Much of his time with Morikawa was spent playing the par-60 course where he worked, focusing on various aspects of the game away from the driving range.
“He has a message that most good mental coaches have,” said veteran caddie J.J. Jakovac, who has been working for Morikawa since he turned pro. “They have such a good relationship since Collin was a little boy. You can see that Collin trusts him fully. When you trust someone, I think it’s much easier to practice what they are preaching. He trusts him like a family member. And Rick is not afraid to be honest with him. He’ll tell him what he sees and what he’s thinking. They’ll go over a round a game plan.
“On the physical side, he built his golf swing, so he knows it better than anyone. When he’s off, it’s very imperceptible to the eye. But Rick sees it because he’s worked with him so long.”
The key moment of last year’s PGA came at Harding Park’s 16th hole, a drivable par-4 in which Morikawa had laid up and hit a wedge to the green each of the first three days.
But with the tournament in the balance that Sunday and several players firmly in contention, Morikawa trusted his instincts and went with a driver, ripping a cut that bounced onto the green and stopped 7 feet from the cup. When he holed the eagle putt, Morikawa was in command of the championship he’d clinch two holes later.
There for the pandemic-muted celebration was Sessinghaus, who barely two years ago was watching Morikawa finish his collegiate career at Cal. Now he’d won a major and added the WGC-Workday Championship in February.
“I do pinch myself every day to be able to help,” Sessinghaus said. “And I’m super grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way. The other question is more the surprise factor. Yes, he’s won four times in 45 starts. That’s a winning rate that is extremely high. Would I have said he’d win four times? Probably not. I really felt he was going to have a successful career, a long career. So it’s not surprising when he’s in contention.
“I just believed from an early age he had that ‘it’ factor. He’s put in the hard work. But I have to have the perspective that this is special, a cool ride.”
Perhaps the quality that Sessinghaus and Jakovac appreciate the most is Morikawa’s maturity. He has an abundance of it for a player who is not long out of college and played his first full year as a pro in the midst of the pandemic.
“We haven’t hit a point where we’ve been just like, “Well, I don’t know what to do,”’ Morikawa said. “We won early on. That doesn’t mean you can’t stop working on things. If he told me after we won the PGA, ‘OK, all right, see in you a few months, you’re doing OK,’ I would hate that.
“But that’s not who Rick is. Right after the PGA we’re trying to figure out, ‘What do we do better? How do we get better? How do we stay where we’re at?’ Because every single day when we wake up, we always wake up a little different. So how do we get back to those things of being the best golfer we can?”
One way is to trust the team. Morikawa didn’t want to make any fancy coaching changes just because he was turning pro. And he sought a veteran caddie who knew the ropes, wasn’t afraid to offer advice and who was quick to recognize the student-teacher dynamic.
“He has this calmness about him even when things are not going his way,” Jakovac said. “There’s no stress or pressure. I’m sure it’s not that way inside, but he has his way about him. … Golf is a hard sport, and you see other young kids throwing clubs, throwing tantrums. [Morikawa] having that chill factor really helps.
“He wouldn’t be as good as he is without that mental side. It’s just a good combination of everything. He wants to learn. I think he’d be the first guy to tell you he’s still young and he doesn’t know everything about golf. He’s learning techniques every week we go out. He wants to have all the shots and wants to be among the best players.”
Morikawa already is. He’s ranked sixth in the world after getting to a high of No. 4. It’s been a quick rise to the top, but the journey goes way back to his grade school days and junior golf lessons with a pro who is still by his side.