Less than a week before trying to qualify for the 2019 U.S. Open, Collin Morikawa had one major detail to take care of: secure the services of a caddie for his upcoming career in professional golf.
One thing quickly led to another, however, and Morikawa was on the phone with J.J. Jakovac, a former aspiring professional who found greater riches in professional golf carrying a bag instead of playing out of one.
After 45 minutes on the phone, Jakovac started planning a trip to Ohio and four days later landed in the Buckeye State to start his new job with Morikawa in a 36-hole U.S. Open qualifier. They hit it off immediately in the parking lot of Scioto Country Club despite the years separating them – Morikawa’s 24, Jakovac’s 38 – and the baseball teams they are devoted to – Morikawa and his Los Angeles Dodgers, Jakovac and his San Francisco Giants.
They’ve been together ever since – for four wins in Morikawa’s 45 starts as a pro.
“As a college golfer coming out, you really don’t know what your caddie is going to be like or what you’re going to need,” Morikawa said. “The only question I asked J.J. was if he’s organized.”
Jakovac was put to the test right away. The day before the Monday U.S. Open qualifier, Morikawa found out he was awarded an exemption into the coming week’s RBC Canadian Open and asked Jakovac if he could go north of the border. Trouble was, Jakovac didn’t have his passport and the few clothes he had packed for Ohio fit into a carry-on.
Jakovac got hustling and had his wife overnight his passport and he scrounged up a few extra pieces of clothing for the trip to Toronto.
Morikawa qualified for the U.S. Open and then tied for 14th in Canada with Jakovac walking stride for stride in his professional debut. One month later he tied for second in the 3M Open in Minnesota. The following week he tied for fourth in the John Deere Classic.
Two weeks later, in his sixth start as a pro, he won the Barracuda Championship.
He has since added victories in the 2020 Workday Charity Open, the 2021 World Golf Championships-Workday Championship at The Concession and, of course, the 2020 PGA Championship in just his second start in a major.
And Morikawa began his career with 22 consecutive made cuts, a stretch to start a pro career bested only by Tiger Woods’ 25.
“It only took a couple weeks for me to know that J.J. would be great for me,” Morikawa said. “He was a former pro. He was a well-respected, experienced caddie. He learned my game quickly. It just made sense and we just kept feeding off each other.
“I’m not saying we’re perfect every time. We still work on things; we still tweak things here and there. But that’s what makes him great; we’re both willing to learn and we’re both willing to try to learn something new at times and if we fail, we fail. We’re trying to get better. He just loves being there just as much as I do.”
There was a time Jakovac wanted to be there as a player. Playing for California State University, Chico, he was the NCAA Division II individual champion in 2002 and 2004. Three-time All-American. Twice the recipient of the Arnold Palmer Award given to the Division II Player of the Year. And he earned the Jack Nicklaus Award for the best collegiate golfer in the nation in 2004.
He turned pro and traveled golf’s lonely roads on mini-tours and the Hooters, Gateway and Golden State tours. But he failed three times to get through Q-School and started questioning his journey.
“I made some money, did all right, but I was spinning my wheels and was burned out on it,” Jakovac said.
He took a break and then got a call from Matt Bettencourt, who Jakovac had played against in amateur golf. Bettencourt was looking for a caddie and Jakovac made a career switch. In 2008, Bettencourt won twice on the Nationwide Tour and was the leading money winner with Jakovac on the bag. The two split and Jakovac worked a bit for Peter Tomasulo before hooking up in 2010 with Ryan Moore, a former teammate in the Palmer Cup. The relationship lasted nearly eight years and yielded four victories.
“I’ve always liked having good players on the bag, someone who has that perspective of knowing how to really play golf, how to deal with different shots, different moments and how difficult it can be,” Moore said. “I’ve always appreciated someone who has been there, done that and J.J. definitely had that experience. I think Collin feels the same way.”
Jakovac and Moore split after the 2018 PGA Championship and Jakovac took another break to spend time with his family.
“I wasn’t in a hurry to find another bag,” Jakovac said.
Some time passed before he was smitten watching Morikawa on TV and knowing all about his standout collegiate career, he got in touch with Andrew Kipper, Morikawa’s agent. Turns out it was a fruitful phone call.
“He’s such a nice kid, such a mature kid. It was like after 5 minutes after I met him for the first time that I thought it would work out,” Jakovac said. “After that it was just all about learning his golf game and distances.
“I’ve told people before that he’s an old soul. He has an ability that is way beyond his years, to just go with the flow on the golf course, to understand he’s going to hit bad golf shots. He doesn’t get flustered or frustrated. He still has the fire and he does get mad, but then it’s like he flips a switch and it’s gone.
“It’s so easy to caddie for him. He thinks like a good caddie on the golf course.
He’s already on the same page with me. And he listens. I trust him, and he trusts me. We’re friends. We like each other. That makes it pretty easy to work together.”
Jakovac will tell you Morikawa’s mind is his best attribute, even more so than his supreme ball-striking skills. Among the many moments that stand out occurred at the 2019 John Deere Classic.
In just his fifth start as a professional, Morikawa needed a top-10 finish to lock up his card. Morikawa finished in a tie for fourth.
“On the 18th green on Sunday, I was so happy for him, ecstatic, as he comes over to me. I gave him a half hug, half handshake,” Jakovac said. “I told him he locked up his card and he just said, ‘I know.’ He’s excited but he’s not emotional. I asked him, ‘Aren’t you excited?’ ‘Yeah, I’m excited.’ And then there was a pause for about five seconds when I asked, ‘You knew you were going to do this, huh?’ And he’s like, ‘I thought I was.’
“He expected to get his card in that short of time. He wasn’t over-the-top excited because he expected to do it. That’s special.”
The two are on the same page when Morikawa wants to try new things, whether it be a new putter, putting stroke and learning how to slightly draw the driver.
Morikawa appreciates Jakovac having done that and been there in the grind of professional golf.
“I’m so happy to have him on the bag, so let me say thank you, Ryan Moore, for not keeping him on the bag,” he said. “He’s a person I can talk to on the course and who just keeps it comfortable.
“He knows what to say, when to say it. He has figured out my game and what kind of player I am, what I need to know, what I don’t need to know, and it’s as simple as that. I’m very lucky to have him on the bag.”
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/05/18/pga-championship-collin-morikawa-jj-jakovac-caddie/