Swinging Away with the Hometown Girl
Growing up in Monterey, Mina Harigae would cruise around with her mom to the Peninsula’s many world-class golf courses, intent on practicing her drives, puts, and chips, all so that she could hone her craft for the next junior golf tournament on the calendar. Then, at the end of the day or after school, she’d often end up eating dinner at Takara, her family’s sushi restaurant in Pacific Grove.
Before long, Mina won the California Amateur Open at just 12 years old. And, at 17, when she still had a year of high school left at Robert Louis Stevenson in Pebble Beach, she played in her first U.S. Women’s Open, one of the major events on the LPGA tour.
These days, that’s par for the course, so to speak, as she tours around the country, entering LPGA Tour events as a Top-50 women’s golfer in the world—and as arguably the Peninsula’s most successful professional athlete ever. Just last year, she finished second in the U.S. Open, earning more than $1 million—the largest-ever prize for a women’s golfer who didn’t win the tournament.
Mina is currently preparing for the 2023 U.S. Open, hoping to improve upon last year’s second-place finish, on her home turf, no less: this July, the tournament will be held at Pebble Beach Golf Links, marking the first time ever it will be played at the legendary course overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
We talked to Mina about life on tour and growing up in a golfing Mecca, and got a sense (literally) of walking in her shoes.
- Laith Agha
You got married in March. Tell me a little about the wedding.
We got married at the golf course that we met at. It’s our home golf course, Superstition Mountain Country Club (in Gold Canyon, Arizona). It was perfect. Our ceremony was literally under one minute: We got married at 3 p.m., and we teed off at 3:30 p.m.
Oh my gosh. You played right after you got married?!
Yep. The ceremony was literally my husband’s brother, who married us, and a friend of mine who was our witness, and then it was just me and my husband on the golf course after that.
Now that you live in Arizona and spend most of the year on tour, how often do you make it back to the Monterey Peninsula?
These last few years, not as much as I used to. Being married now and having a house here in Arizona, I pretty much have everything I need here. But I try to get back there two, three, four times a year, if I’m lucky. And this year, I’m probably going back there four or five times this year because of the U.S. Open and some other obligations. It’s always really nice to go back home.
You finished second in the U.S. Open last year. That must have been both exhilarating, as well as confirming for your career.
Definitely both of those things. I just happened to play well at the right time.
With the U.S. Open coming to Pebble Beach this year for the first time, would you say it is a bigger deal for the Monterey Peninsula and Pebble Beach, or for the LPGA?
It’s probably a little bit of both, but definitely a big deal for the LPGA and women’s golf, because we’re starting to play the iconic venues that the men have always gotten to play. A lot of the reason why people like to watch men’s golf is that they get to play those iconic venues, like Pebble Beach and Riviera (in Los Angeles) and Augusta National. The venue has a lot to do with tuning in. So, I think that’s why people are starting to watch us more.
What is life like for you on the tour? What’s your weekly routine?
Sunday or Monday, depending on where we’re going, that’s our travel day. Tuesday is the main practice day. Wednesday is the pro-am (professionals and amateurs pair up), then the tournament is Thursday through Sunday. And then you do it all over it again. Week to week to week.
Do you take weeks off?
Playing four weeks in a row is my max.
You seemed to have made a mark on tour by wearing Air Jordan golf shoes. And it seems to be widely accepted. Does that mean that the Tour’s fashion standards are loosening up?
It’s definitely loosening up. More and more girls are wearing the Air Jordans. And golf fashion is starting to change and relax more. It‘s not like people have said anything negative to me. Sometimes on Instagram I’ll see comments like, “Leave the basketball shoes on the court,” but I’ve never run into anyone in person who had an issue with them. Honestly, the spectators will usually say things like, “Those are the best shoes!” It’s really cool how people are embracing it.
Staying with the fashion theme, you have the freedom as a golfer to choose your own outfits for when you’re competing. How important is it to have that freedom? Does it help you be more yourself?
I learned this after last year. In 2020 and 2021, I didn’t have a clothing sponsor. I just bought the clothes that I really liked and that fit me, and I played well. And then last year, I had the great opportunity to have a clothing sponsor, but it really wasn’t me. And so I decided this year that I don’t care if I have to buy my own clothes. I’m going to wear what I think looks good on me. So, I feel a lot more comfortable on the course now. It’s not that there is just one brand that I like all of their stuff. I really like to be able to pick and choose: I like this hoodie, I like these joggers, these shorts, these polos.
Going all the way back to the beginning, do you remember your first time picking up a golf club, or the moment when you fell in love with the sport?
I don’t remember the exact moment. I just remember, before I really got into it, my dad would go play golf or go to the driving range on the weekends, and sometimes I would follow him there. But when I was 8, I needed something to do after school, and so my mom put me in a Salvation Army junior golf clinic at Bayonet and Blackhorse (golf courses in Seaside). I would do that a couple times a week, and I ended up having so much fun. I knew this is what I wanted to do.
When you were 12 years old, you won the California Amateur tournament—just four years after you started playing golf. Obviously, you have natural talent, but there also has to be a drive and a lot of hard work that goes into that kind of success at such a young age.
I just remember going around to the local AT&T junior golf tournaments that were played at what used to be called Peter Hay (in Pebble Beach) or the old Del Monte course in Monterey, and every time I’d sign up, I would always try to shoot better than I did the time before. if I shot 55 the first time, then I’d say to myself that I need to shoot 53. It was really fun chasing that, always trying to get better.
Growing up on the Monterey Peninsula, there are golf courses everywhere. I was fortunate enough that after school, my mom would take me to a different course almost every day. I would go hit at Bayonet, or go putt at Poppy Hills, or go chipping at Spanish Bay. We could always work on something different and keep it fresh.
Do your parents ever join you on tour?
No, not really. They own and operate a Japanese restaurant, so if they leave they have to shut it down. We’ve had a couple of tournaments in San Francisco, so they go see that. And since they’re from Japan, they’ve gone to see me play in a tournament there a couple times.
Speaking of your parents’ restaurant, Takara in Pacific Grove, how are your sushi-making skills?
Not good. I didn’t get the cooking gene.
Was the restaurant a central part of your childhood?
Growing up, my grandma lived with us. So, she would be able to pick me up, and I could just go home after I was done with what I was doing that day. But once she passed away, my mom had to do a lot of juggling—picking me up from school, dropping me off at the golf course. And when the days were longer, she’d pick me up at 7:30 or 8 p.m., take me back to the restaurant, and then I’d eat dinner and do my homework there.
You went to that high school in Pebble Beach. Do you call your alma mater, RLS or Stevenson?
I interchange them. (Laughter) When I talk to locals, it’s RLS. But when I have to talk about it to other people, I call it Stevenson School.
What was your experience like at RLS?
When people ask me about my high school, I’ll say Poppy Hills is where I practiced, and Spyglass was my school’s home course. People are always so impressed about it. But you know, I was just so fortunate to be able to play at those courses. It was so much fun. I mean, Spyglass was my home course. What’s not to like?
Do you stay in contact with people from RLS?
There are teachers who keep in touch with me. They’ll email after tournaments. And whenever I’m home, if I stop by Stevenson, they’ll say ‘hi.’ A couple of them go to my parent’s restaurant every week or two and say ‘hi’ to my mom. It’s just really cool that they still support me after all these years.
When speaking to young kids, whether it’s to young girls or kids in general, what is your message to them about pursuing their dreams?
When I was a kid, I’ll be honest, I didn’t like practicing. When you’re a kid, it’s all about having fun. I think it’s important for whatever sport you choose. But for golf, finding friends and having fun with them can really get kids to love the game. Because when you’re practicing with friends, you can have a long-drive contest, a chipping contest, a putting contest, and really make it a fun game for them, and not make it feel like work so early in their lives.
If you weren’t a golfer, what would you be doing?
(Laughter) When I was a kid, I really liked animals, so I thought being a veterinarian or a zoologist would be really cool. But I definitely wouldn’t want to be a vet now. When I was 12, I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and I’ve been doing it ever since. <img src="https://assets-global.website-files.com/6457f19f1c1e1601e2c9c3f6/6487a9355b63a6818c705cea_CC-Icon--20.svg"alt="CC"height="20" width="20">