The new PGA Tour season begins with a renewed emphasis on philanthropy, with Lahaina in mind

Collin Morikawa makes his fifth trip to Kapalua to start a new year on the PGA Tour at The Sentry. This was her first time wearing an apron and she was shivering from the cold.

Before heading to the mountain range, Morikawa walked up the mountain from the Plantation Course to work with Hua Momona Farms, which specializes in microgreens. Provides free meals with local ingredients to Maui families displaced by the deadly Lahaina wildfires that killed at least 100 people.

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

Morikawa and his wife cut beets with a straight razor, peeled carrots and got into the freezer trailer to finish packing the boxed meals.

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

His grandparents were born in Lahaina and owned a restaurant on Front Street, where all the restaurants, stores and houses were destroyed by the August 8th fires. The Morikawa restaurant had long since closed, but Morikawa still visited Lahaina as a child. “A special place,” he said.

“You'll always look back and know what this tournament represented and what it meant to me and hopefully other players on the court, and what it will mean to the community,” he said. “This week I will always have the community of Lahaina, the community of Maui, on my mind. And that will push me to do great things this week.”

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

Far from it.

This begins with the drive to Kapalua along the Honoapiilani Highway, where the charred remains of Lahaina are visible, along with a faint smell of smoke. The fire destroyed more than 2,000 buildings.

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

Schauffele started his week by hosting a clinic for 60 young golfers affected by the wildfires.

“It's nice to see how happy they were and how much fun they were having, that golf can provide relief in a difficult time,” Schauffele said. “It's something different when you're on an estate, close to what happened. I hope we can offer a lot of charity, relief and support.

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

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

Patrick Cantlay's foundation has launched a partnership with the First Responders Children's Foundation that includes a fundraising campaign to help the families of first responders to the fires. A four-year scholarship program for first responder children begins in the fall.

“I think the PGA Tour emphasizes philanthropy, but this week even more so,” Cantlay said. “Given the extensive damage, I think it's important for all of us to reach out and try to help with Just because some people may be back in a living facility, that doesn't mean the healing process is complete.”

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

“Some of the kids go to school twice a week and they just want to get back to normal,” Cantlay said. “Anything this tournament can do to get Lahaina back to normal faster or to help with the healing, that's exactly what we need to do.”

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

The concern comes with caution, however, as many workers are tired of asking about the most devastating day of their lives.

The PGA Tour left a note in players' registration packets from the Hawaii Tourism Authority asking visitors not to ask about residents' experiences unless they volunteer.

“When I walk anywhere, it affects the staff, the locker room, the valet, whoever is on the property,” Schauffele said.

He said a worker at the valet told him two houses had burned down. One of the assistant pros lost his home and just recently returned to help out at the tournament.

And so the PGA Tour is set to begin Thursday with a special blessing in Hawaii on the first tee, players like Schauffele and Morikawa and Tom Hoge promising 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 only here for vacation after being suspended for participating in LIV Golf. The remaining 59 players think this is an ideal start to a new year.

But with the reminders of ruined lives all around them, this season opener isn't quite the same.

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