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Morikawa, Murphy and a matchbook

Between the Lines: PGA champion gifted piece of family’s Maui history tracked down by Upcountry resident

Collin Morikawa, whose grandparents once owned a restaurant in Lahaina, played in the Sentry Tournament of Champions at the Kapalua Plantation Course in January. Earlier this month he won the PGA Championship for his first major title. RIGHT PHOTO: In this photo taken in January, the Morikawa Restaurant matchbook acquired by Dave Murphy and given to Collin Morikawa is shown. AP file photo

This is the saga of a very old matchbook and its remarkable coast-to-island-to-coast journey.

Back in December — a lifetime ago, right? — I wrote a story about then-22-year-old PGA Tour golfer Collin Morikawa, who was set to play in the Sentry Tournament of Champions at the Kapalua Plantation Course.

“A long, long time ago in Lahaina, I think they had a family restaurant. 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 — he was speaking about his grandparents who were born in the 50th state.

That line caught the eye of Dave Murphy, a 66-year-old Upcountry resident who has never attended the golf tournament but immediately felt a sort of kinship with Morikawa.

Murphy went online and searched for Morikawa’s Restaurant and hit pay dirt.

Murphy

“I read the article and he suggested that he had family that lived in Lahaina and had a restaurant — he wished he knew the name of it,” Murphy said Friday. “So, 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.

“I thought, ‘Well, hey, how cool,’ so I just bought it. The guy said, ‘I can send it but I have to cut the actual match heads off,’ so I think that’s how it showed up. That’s really all I did. I just went online, it was on eBay and I bought it. You did the rest.”

Murphy has researched the restaurant — he does not recall ever going to it — but he doesn’t know much more than what he saw on the matchbook.

“It looked kind of old style to me,” Murphy said. “Early ’50s, it didn’t look ’60s to me.”

Murphy handed the trinket off to me in a parking lot in Kihei — along with a heartfelt note that included some cover art work hand drawn by Murphy — with the hope that I could get it to Morikawa, who had already left the state, on to a PGA Tour event in California.

The Maui News photo

I called on an old friend Mark Rolfing — a longtime Kapalua resident who is a Golf Channel and NBC Sports golf analyst — to help me in the quest to deliver the goods to Morikawa. I promptly FedExed the package to Rolfing’s hotel in California.

Rolfing got the package to Andrew Kipper, Morikawa’s agent.

Kipper wanted to have the matchbook framed for his young, budding star. But soon the COVID-19 pandemic hit, golf was delayed, and the matchbook’s travels were halted for months.

Last week, with the help Rachel Noble, the coordinator of communications for PGA Tour championship management, I was able to get a reaction to receiving the decades-old piece of family history from Morikawa. He has gained notoriety this season with a heartbreaking loss in a playoff and two dramatic wins, including his jaw-dropping victory at the PGA Championship a couple weeks ago.

“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. “But my dad used to go there over summers. He grew up in California, but he used to go over the summers because that’s where my grandparents spent all their time, that’s where they grew up.

“So, to bring back that connection is pretty special.”

Rolfing was happy to play his part in the saga.

“It really says a lot,” Rolfing said of the entire storyline. “I’ve talked to Collin about his heritage. Just having the Hawaii ties really means a lot to him. I have got to tell you, I have become a huge Collin Morikawa fan. Not, just after he won the PGA Championship, but after what he did at Sentry.”

Rolfing referred to Friday night at the Sentry event in January, where he was set to host an event for the sponsor.

“This was the night that I became a Collin Morikawa fan,” Rolfing said. “I was going to do a one-on-one Q-and-A with a player in the field. It was a pretty big-name player. Anyway, to make a long story short, the event was supposed to happen at 6:30 and at 5:45 we found out that the player who was going to appear wasn’t coming, couldn’t come, something happened.”

A PGA Tour staff member found Morikawa in the fitness center.

“He’s 22 years old at the time and he’s in a pair of gym shorts and a workout shirt and they go in and ask him if there’s any possible way he could do this and at 6:30 into the room comes Collin Morikawa wearing a towel around his neck — he walks right up onto the stage with me and just lit up the room for half an hour,” Rolfing said. “It was amazing and when that thing was over, the sponsor was obviously thrilled. That he would leave that workout to come up there and do that just said so much to me.”

Morikawa was clearly touched when he received a piece of family lore in person.

“I’ve never really had anything like that and I think a lot of people do, whatever kind of family ties or whenever something like that gets handed down, but I’ve never really had that,” Morikawa said. “And to have that is so cool. I mean, I remember my parents talking about they used to have a T-shirt that had the Morikawa Restaurant — it was just like a pocket T. I’m like these are the coolest shirts anyone would own, like, ‘How cool would that be now?’ But they have no clue where that is, so to have that (matchbook) is very special.”

The eBay seller was based in New York state.

“It becomes a pretty small world when somebody is shopping for something like that and say, ‘OK, hey, they can connect the dots pretty easily,’ “ said Murphy, who has lived on Maui since 1983. “It struck a note to me because (Morikawa) is local to a certain degree.”

Morikawa is now on the case to have the matchbook framed for his parents.

“Because now being able to play in Hawaii and get our name out there a little more, it’s cool because Front Street in Lahaina is so special,” Morikawa said. “It’s obviously a huge tourist area, but back then when it wasn’t a tourist area, it was just a very good spot, so I’m trying to think, ‘Man, if we had kept our restaurant, how cool would that have been?’ “

The matchbook just adds to his sense of home here.

“It gives that extra little sense of pride that’s just like playing in your home state or home city — it just gives you an extra good feeling for the week whenever you’re out there,” he said.

Morikawa cannot wait to be back at Kapalua in January.

“I started thinking about that after winning Workday (Charity Open in July),” Morikawa said. “Yeah, whenever you’re there for Sentry Tournament of Champions, it means you’ve done something very good in the past year. I told my caddie after last year, ‘Let’s make this happen, let’s make this a usual thing because it’s a very fun week.’ “

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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