Collin Morikawa has done his fair share of winning as of late.
Five times on the PGA Tour since 2019. Two major championship in the last 18 months. Toss in a DP World Tour Championship and the Race to Dubai and you’ll get the picture: This guy isn’t afraid to chase down a trophy.
But Morikawa finished his 2021 golfing year with a strange result; he entered the final round at the Hero World Challenge with a five-shot lead, knowing he’d reach World No. 1 with a victory. Instead he squandered that advantage with a front-nine 41 and wound up finishing fifth, a head-scratching result for such an ascendant talent.
Morikawa is making his first DP World Tour start of the year this week in Abu Dhabi. That meant when he met with the media on Tuesday he was asked about his high-profile wins, including the tour’s season-ending event and the Open Championship. But he was particularly insightful talking about the Hero and what it felt like to come up short.
“It was a weird Sunday because I felt great going into it. Game felt good. Warmup felt great. First couple holes felt good,” Morikawa remembered. “It was just something — I couldn’t get out of it and I went from trying to win the tournament to just trying to hit a decent putt. Just was trying to start the ball on line and then that’s the worst thing when you’re trying to win a tournament is when you’re thinking about things, right.”
That bit was particularly interesting. The worst thing to do in contention is to think about things? He clarified what that means.
“When we’re out there playing well and winning tournaments, you’re thinking about nothing other than hitting a good shot and I just wasn’t doing that. Sometimes you figure out little fixes and figure it out,” he said.
It’s hardly a new concept; Morikawa is essentially describing the difference between what some coaches call “playing golf” vs. “playing golf swing.” And despite his well-earned reputation as a sniper with his irons, Morikawa isn’t a particularly technical player, which means a cloudy mind can get in the way of his incredible swing and feel. It’s a lesson any golfer should learn from; chances are when you’ve been playing your best golf, you haven’t been working through complex swing thoughts on the course. But Morikawa couldn’t escape them that day.
The good news, he said, is that he moves on quickly.
“I was frustrated for a couple days, or a day, and you get over it and then I’m motivated,” he said. “So now it’s more motivation. But what you learn from a round like that is just a lot, right? We talked about putting. How do I not pull my putt? How do I work on my putting? How do I have something to check on in my putting so I know I’m not going to start like that the first four holes?”
Morikawa has been a notably streaky putter since he first arrived on the PGA Tour; he finished 128th in strokes gained putting his first year and 178th his second season. When his putter was hot, he was terrific — it cooperated en route to several high-profile victories. But he’s still looking for a go-to move to keep his putter steady when things don’t quite feel right. In two measured starts this season, he’s putted great, gaining a half-shot on the greens (good for 34th on Tour, though a small sample size). Time will tell if he can keep it up.
As for the rest of the tournament? Morikawa is leaving it in the past. He mentioned a mud ball and a bad chip and a lost ball and the fine margins of stroke-play golf. “You just look back and a couple different breaks here, a couple different breaks there and you know, I’m still in the tournament,” he said.
“We’re playing half the weeks of the year. There’s going to be some bad days. But it’s just about managing how bad it gets and how bad it could get, and obviously what happened at the Bahamas, you know, we talked about that. It wasn’t great. But for me, it’s learning about those things and making sure I never have those happen again.”
Morikawa has another chance to claim the World No. 1 title this week; he’d get there with a victory in Abu Dhabi combined with Jon Rahm finishing worse than T7 at the American Express. He has winning on the mind.
“You know, I’ve been announced for a handful of months now as the Champion Golfer of the Year, but this is the first time someone brought up being the reigning Race to Dubai Champion, so there’s a lot of weight that’s on [my] shoulders right now. It’s a great weight to have and I want to come back as strong as ever. I want to start these first two weeks off on a real high note and hopefully come out with a couple trophies.”