New PGA Tour Season Starts With Renewed Emphasis On Charity With Lahaina In Mind

KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — Collin Morikawa is making his fifth trip to Kapalua to start a new year on the PGA Tour at The Sentry. This was the first time he wore an apron and was shivering from cold.

Before heading to the range, Morikawa drove up the mountain from the Plantation Course to work with Hua Momona Farms, which specializes in microgreens. It has been providing free meals of locally sourced ingredients to Maui families displaced by the deadly fires in Lahaina that killed at least 100 people.

Zach Laidlaw, the chef, was among Hua Momona Farms employees who lost their homes.

Morikawa and his wife clipped beet sprouts with a straight razor, peeled carrots and stepped into the freezer trailer to finish packing the boxed meals.

“Some weeks mean more than others, but when you have a connection like I do this week it’s always going to mean more,” he said Tuesday morning.

His grandparents were born in Lahaina and had a restaurant on Front Street, where all the restaurants, stores and homes were demolished by the Aug. 8 fires. The Morikawa Restaurant had long ago closed, but Morikawa still visited Lahaina as a kid. “A special place,” he said.

“You’re always going to look back and know what this tournament represented and what it meant to myself and hopefully other players in the field, and what it’s going to mean to the community,” he said. “This week I’ll always have the community of Lahaina, the community of Maui, in my head. And that’s going to push me to hopefully do great things this week.”

The Sentry is the first of eight $20 million signature events on the PGA Tour schedule, this one a 59-man field comprised of winners from 2023 and anyone finishing in the top 50 in the FedEx Cup. The idyllic views of the Pacific, and of the occasional humpback whale breeching below, make it seem like any other year at Kapalua.

Far from it.

That starts with the drive toward Kapalua along the Honoapiilani Highway, where charred remains of Lahaina are visible, along with a faint whiff of smoke. The fire destroyed more than 2,000 buildings.

Morikawa has company in his concern. Xander Schauffele, whose father was a teaching pro in Hawaii some 30 years ago, was among the first to get involved in August by joining with Hawaiian Host Group to match donations up to $100,000 each.

Schauffele started his week hosting a clinic for 60 junior golfers affected by the fires.

“It’s cool to see how happy they were and how much fun they were having, that golf can provide a relief during a tricky time,” Schauffele said. “It does feel different being on property, being close to what happened. I hope we can provide a lot of charity and relief and support.

“There’s been talk about all kinds of other crap the last several months,” he said, referring to the PGA Tour battling a threat from LIV Golf and then agreeing to a commercial deal with the Saudi funders of the rival league. “What the tour can do best, and what the players can do best is provide some good entertainment and some good charitable efforts.”

Tony Finau had his annual family tournament on the Bay Course on Tuesday afternoon, streaming it live and with three teams playing for various local charities while encouraging donations to the Lahaina cause. Rickie Fowler collaborated with Cobra Puma Golf on a hat with an “L” for Lahaina. All proceeds of hat sales go to the Maui United Way.

Patrick Cantlay’s foundation started a partnership with the First Responders Children’s Foundation that includes a fundraising campaign to aid first responder families impacted by the fires. A four-year scholarship program for first responder children starts in the fall.

“I think the PGA Tour has an emphasis on charity, but this week even more so,” Cantlay said. “Considering the extensive damage, I think it’s important for all of us to reach out and do our part and try to help with the healing process. Just because some people might be back in some living facility, that doesn’t mean the healing process is done.”

He also spoke at a forum Monday night for Sentry Insurance, the Wisconsin-based title sponsor that already has donated more than $2 million to various relief charities. Among the stories Cantlay heard was two of the five Lahaina schools that burned.

“Some of the kids are going going to school two times a week, and they just want to get back to normalcy,” Cantlay said. “Anything this tournament can do to bring Lahaina back to normalcy quicker, or to help with the healing, is exactly what we should be doing.”

Front Street and the immediate area remains closed to traffic. Stores and restaurants on the outskirts of Old Lahaina Town are just starting to open. Restaurants in Kapalua, about 10 miles away, are full with the tournament, along with other tourists.

With concern comes caution, however, as many employees are weary of being asked about the most devastating day of their lives.

The PGA Tour left a note in players’ registration packet from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, asking that visitors not inquire about residents’ experiences unless they volunteer it.

“When I walk around anywhere, the staff, the locker room, valet, anyone on property has been affected,” Schauffele.

He said a worker in valet told him he had two houses burn down. One of the assistant pros lost his home and only returned recently to help at the tournament.

And so the PGA Tour is set to begin on Thursday with a special Hawaiian blessing on the first tee, players like Schauffele and Morikawa and Tom Hoge pledging money for every birdie and eagle, and “Lahaina Strong Saturday,” when fans will be asked to wear red shirts in support.

Jon Rahm is the defending champion. He is here only on vacation, having been suspended for joining LIV Golf. The other 59 players consider this an ideal start to a new year.

But with reminders of shattered lives around them, this season opener is not quite the same.