Collin Morikawa’s two-week summer trip to Britain started off in inauspicious fashion.
Prior to the Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club just outside North Berwick he was scheduled to do an interview with Sky Sports. What he didn’t know at the time was that this was a prank planned by the ever-innovative digital content team of the European Tour. Ever gracious, a bemused Morikawa tried to deal with a confident but wildly ill-informed interviewer (The Fake Pundit) who was, unbeknown to the American, acting under the instructions of Tour players Matt Wallace and Soren Kjeldsen who were supplying ideas and questions into his earpiece while watching it all unfold on a screen before them.
Courteously and gently Morikawa corrected the FP’s appalling gaffes but when walking away with his team, he was heard relaying the gist of the interview: “They didn’t get one…they didn’t get one thing right. He said he was a stats guy. He said I’d three major wins. He said I’d 15 holes-in-one. He said I was named after Colin Montgomerie…and I’m a huge musician. I can’t play a frickin’ musical instrument for my life…!”
It was at this point he was informed about the prank and his reaction was completely one of “you got me there, boys”. No irritation whatsoever – he even turned back to the FP and the hidden camera crew and raised his hands to applaud them. He thoroughly enjoyed the joke at his own expense.Morikawa revealed even more of himself that week in Scotland. Widely regarded as the best iron player in the world and with statistics supporting that contention, nevertheless he felt there was something a little “off” with that department of his game. Of the 77 players who made the cut only five were behind him come Sunday evening so something had to be done.
He consulted with his equipment company and between them they worked out the changes he needed in his clubs to give him back the strike he was looking for, yet hadn’t achieved off the Scottish turf. He changed his irons to a set that were a little more forgiving off links turf and immediately liked the switch. No dissing of an equipment company for him, rather thoughtful collaboration between player and technicians and great results followed. Morikawa may have been three years shorter on this earth than a certain other major winner but he’s a wonderfully mature human already.
The last adjustment to his Open Championship strategy was to forgo using the “saw” grip on the longer putts. With greens running at a little over 10 on the stimp Morikawa couldn’t get the oomph needed to get the ball to the hole so reverted to a more conventional grip for the long putts while retaining his other grip for the short to medium ones.
“From outside 25, 30 feet I just couldn’t get that hit. I couldn’t get that tempo that you see, like, a Brandt Snedeker put on his putts. That is something you need out here because the greens are slower than what we’re used to playing. Just switching to conventional, I didn’t have to change anything mentally. I just kind of went at it like I normally felt and kind of matched the speeds. That’s something that without my caddie, J.J., I wouldn’t have figured out on my own.”
All of this preparation came to a head in a glorious week’s play at Royal St George’s, Morikawa’s debut Open. He had played in all the other majors twice and was entered for the Open last year, which of course didn’t happen, so he was itching to get started in the grandest one of them all. We all wondered how he’d cope with contending in a major in front of vast crowds fully aware that his PGA win last year was in front of only a handful of folk.The answer was obvious very early on and as the pressure mounted over the weekend he never faltered. His weekend total of 134 was only bettered by one man in the field – Scotland’s Bob McIntyre (132 blows) who had birdied the last on Friday evening to make the cut on the number. He revelled in the crowds and summed up his appreciation of them with the acknowledgment that “they bring an energy and life to what we do”.
His closing speech was very assured, taking control of proceedings as to the manner born and encouraging the galleries to sing Happy Birthday to his caddy J.J. He thanked all the right people, was gracious and humble and won many admirers, as eloquent centre stage as he had been the previous week in the spoof interview. Two lovely moments bookending a special trip for him in which he made history by becoming the first man to win two majors on his debut.Morikawa admitted he wasn’t much into the history of the game and, indeed, he didn’t seem to appreciate he had just become the Open Champion, nothing more, nothing less. Not the British Open Champion.
I bet when he studies that Claret Jug, reads those names and has time to himself, he’ll be interested to know a little more about this select group he has joined. He will inevitably be drawn into the mystery and the history of the oldest major and I guarantee next year he’ll be back to defend his Open title, nothing more, nothing less.