The moment I met Collin Morikawa in the media room at Montrêux Golf & Country Club on the morning of July 24, I felt it.
Confidence. Poise. Steel focus tempered with a certain calm, measured ease.
This guy belonged out there, on the PGA Tour, so I went ahead and made the call: He was the guy to beat in a field of 132 players that included former major winners, road-hardened vets and a few of his fellow young studs.
Now Morikawa REALLY belongs after winning the Barracuda Championship in Reno, just his sixth professional start after a stellar college career as a four-time All-American at Cal.
“This proves that I am ready,” Morikawa said in his post-round press conference. “To get this first win off my back means a lot. It’s going to open just a lot more confidence and doors for me.”
He racked up 47 total points in the Modified Stableford-scored event, eight coming over the final five holes. He birdied four of them including the final three, highlighted by a perfectly cut 6-iron to 10 feet on the tough par 3 16th, a 30-foot bomb on the skyscraping par-4 17th — his longest make of the week — and a smoked 2-iron on the downhill, reachable par 5 18th, leaving him a 4-iron to the front fringe and a two-putt birdie, which gave him a three-shot cushion over 54-hole leader Troy Merritt, who had to eagle 18 to win outright; a birdie wouldn’t reach. He made par. The hardware — plus a $630,000 check — were Morikawa’s to keep.
[Not a valid template]So far this year, since graduating from Cal as perhaps its best golfer ever, Morikawa has won more than $1.6 million, cracked the World Top 100 and earned himself a spot in at least the first two stops in the month-long FedEx Cup Playoffs, which begin after this week’s Wyndham Championship in North Carolina, where he’ll also tee it up.
His four sub-70 rounds in Reno, including a final round 65, mean he’s shot under par in 13 straight rounds and 15 of his last 16 — a streak that’s simply unheard of for a rookie.
Just goes to show that a solid, accurate iron game works wonders for anyone. For a guy with Morikawa’s distance control acumen, including his ability to flight everything from 5-irons to wedges through the same launch window, it’s downright magic.
In fact, if he’d played enough Tour events up to now, reports PGATour.com, he’d lead the big leagues in greens in regulation (74.1 percent), strokes gained on approach (+1.42), scoring average (67.9) and birdies per round at 4.9. He’d trail only a guy named Rory in overall strokes gained.
Not bad for a 22-year-old Southern Cal kid who knew he had the stuff to succeed out there, but had no idea how — or how long in the future — that success would take full shape, even after he had dinner one day with Justin Thomas, who is, by comparison, an old pro.
“He told me, ‘you’re gonna have goals and expectations, and if you’re good enough, you’ll get there,’” Morikawa said. “The way the summer started, I just kept pushing myself to shoot low scores and put myself in these positions.
“After the 3M [Invitational in Minnesota, where he finished second to fellow straight-from-college phenom Matthew Wolff], I felt really comfortable out there. Today I felt exactly the same. I just needed to make a couple more putts, a couple more birdies, and it came down to one shot. Troy still had an eagle chance at the end, and that could have ended it really quick and change a lot of things. This win means everything to me, and to make it into the playoffs is something special.”
The win also gives Morikawa a spot in the Sentry Tournament of Champions on Maui in January, the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in March and next May’s PGA Championship at Harding Park in San Francisco — a course he’s no doubt played a few times.
The future is nothing but bright for this guy. After watching him and his caddie make their way around Montrêux with the strategy of a 10-year vet, I’m a true believer.
Morikawa employed a measured yet aggressive game plan that took full advantage of the course’s 5,300-foot elevation — he averaged more than 310 yards off the tee — and softer conditions thanks to a couple thunderstorms, including an epic Friday afternoon downpour that pushed the second round’s finish into Saturday. His calm, ever-smiling demeanor, which I’m sure he’ll partially attribute to his longtime swing and mental coach Rick Sessinghaus, kept him in the moment; at only one point in the final round, on the gettable par 5 13th, did he falter ever so slightly.
“I got out of rhythm on 13 and 14,” he said. “I made birdie on 14, but on 13, for my approach shot I just wasn’t trusting myself, not taking my usual tempo.” He pushed the shot right, into a deep bunker, and still nearly made birdie after a beautiful blast to about six feet. On the next hole, a drivable par 4, he left his tee shot about 60 yards short but stuffed a wedge to four feet.
“I told myself there were a lot of holes left, a lot of birdies, and let’s just keep it going.”
He did indeed, in spectacular fashion, setting the stage for a fine career.
“I know my game. I know how to play to my strengths. I just need to keep taking advantage of these opportunities. I love being out here, especially when guys are taking it so low. Obviously there will be courses that are tougher, and those will be very fun, but it’s awesome when people are playing their best and you’re pushing right up against them.”
And, in Reno, past them.
Confidence, poise, steel focus. Collin Morikawa is on his way.