Watch out for the wunderkind…again.
Collin Morikawa may have the best attitude of any of the reigning PGA Tour superstars. Here’s a kid – and I choose that word with precision, because 25 is still remarkably young for anyone, and because of the youthful exuberance Morikawa in particular exudes – here’s a kid who won the PGA Championship in his first appearance in 2020. Then just 14 months later he won his first Open Championship, also in his first appearance.
For those of you scoring at home, while a small handful of players in history won a golf major in their first appearance, Morikawa is the only player in history to turn that trick twice. Moreover, only Jordan Spieth was younger (by mere days) when he won his second major. Morikawa also added a 3-0-1 record at the Ryder Cup, won a World Golf Tour event, and rightfully captured the Golf Writers Association of America Player of the Year award.
That’s a promising start.
It’s no accident. Collin Morikawa is meticulous, unflappable, and indefatigable; he’s the worst type of opponent you want hanging around a leader board on Championship Sunday. He’ll never tire, he won’t crack under pressure, and he will push you to your breaking point…perhaps even beyond.
He might very well will you to death.
Maybe he’ll do it with thunder, like the back-to-back-to-back birdies to close the front nine on Sunday at Royal St. George’s, powering Morikawa to a lead he never relinquished. His closing bogey-free 66 capped off a week where he posted all four rounds in the 60s for a 265 aggregate, one shot shy of tying the major championship record of 264 co-owned by Henrik Stenson and Brooks Koepka.
Perhaps he’ll zap everyone with lightning, and he did on Sunday at the 2020 PGA, first pitching in for birdie at the 14th to break out of a logjam of nine players, including five major champions. Then he slammed the door shut on everyone with an eagle at the par-4 16th after driving the green.
On top of it all, he does it with an aw-shucks attitude off the course. Call him a smiling executioner.
“Let’s just go out to win,” Morikawa energetically enthused, beaming ear to ear at his pre-PGA Championship presser. “We’re here to win.”
At first blush one might chalk that up to the general excitement that any golfer feels at a major, more so when that major is contested at a sterling celebrated venue, like Tulsa’s Southern Hills is. This is the eighth major to be contested here: five PGA Championships (1970, 1976, 1994, 2007, and 2022) versus three U.S. Opens (1958, 1977, and 2001).
But this is not the same Southern Hills we grew up with. Architect Gil Hanse restored the original Perry Maxwell look and feel, but also added significant length, strengthening the holes formerly regarded as the weakest. Yet those changes seemed to suit Morikawa. He told the assembled media that he liked the golf course, and he declared himself ready, especially mentally.
“Out here you’re probably going to have mid to long irons on a couple of the par-4s depending on what the weather is going to be like and how firm or how soft the fairways are going to be,” he offered. “But for me, that’s my game, so I always tailor to that and I always feel like any course I show up at, you’re always going to be hitting irons and you’re always going to be feeling like you can play well.”
That’s good analysis, but more importantly, Morikawa was just getting started turning the presser into an interesting lesson on golf metaphysics.
“What’s the difference between when you win events and when you don’t win?” he asked rhetorically. “Sometimes it’s just a mentality type of thing. You show up to a tournament and you have this kind of feeling. Some weeks you show up and it’s just kind of smooth sailing and you’re just ready to win, and sometimes you just need to tell yourself that and hopefully you can translate that into good golf.”
Hear that everybody? You just show up and win. It’s that easy.
Meanwhile, somewhere in a super-secret laboratory miles beneath the Earth’s crust Bryson DeChambeau is geeking out with Jimmy Neutron about how undersea currents and phases of the moons of Saturn affect the break on putts on 15.
But therein lies the great dichotomy of golf; just as there’s a lot of ways to get the ball in the hole, there are just as many ways for a golfer to get into the right mindset to get the ball in the hole. Morikawa said it himself – he is a feel player. He has to trust it. New way of lining up putts? He’s going to trust it. New grip on the putter? He’s going to trust it. Play the course over and over again to get ready? Not really. Instead, he spent time listening to the stories of the Senior Open players who tackled the newly-renovated Southern Hills last year to pick up their nuances. Chill, Dude, it’s the California way.
Strange, isn’t it? Or counter-intuitive at least, that such a meticulous sport like golf – one where the margin between victory and defeat (and millions of dollars) is microns…one super-thin groove of a golf club – could be conquered so simplistically, not to mention so totally by one of the Tour’s youngest stars.
Then, of course, the interview took a whacky turn. When asked about his killer instinct in the clutch and his cold-blooded ability to finish in the crucible of a major championship, the kid gave us a laughter that will have Morikawa’s media coach doing a face palm and scheduling a meeting for some practice.
“I’m kind of like a silent hunter,” he surmised curiously.” I don’t really like go and ask and just like chirp and bother these guys. I kind of just watch from afar, which sounds really creepy when I say it.”
Come again? As we say in my other line of work, “Rphrase, Counselor…”
We know what Morikawa was trying to say, even though he did not say it: he’s going to be relentless. On the course it’s a grind from hole one though 18. So why waste all the mental energy getting to the starting gate?
“For me you go back to the house, you come out here, play golf, and I think at the beginning of the year I was trying to do a lot — I was trying to do too much in my prep Monday through Wednesday even at regular events,” he confided. “I was just doing too much, and that’s not me. I like to be in and out. I like to come here, do my quick practice, get out and call it a day. I’d rather sit on my couch at home and relax with the cat and the dog and caddie. That’s what I’ve kind of realized since the Masters is just stick to being me.”
Can anyone argue with his results thus far? I think not. Someone hand him a rake and an Easter egg. That might be all he needs.