Collin Morikawa has told the story many times about the dinner he had with Justin Thomas in Canada last summer on the eve of his first professional start.
Two weeks earlier, Morikawa had gone through the graduation ceremony at the University of California then slipped off to Texas to receive the Ben Hogan Award as the nation’s top collegiate golfer. When Morikawa arrived at the RBC Canadian Open, playing for a living for the first time, he sought counsel from Thomas.
The message from Thomas was simple: If you’re good enough, you’ll find your way to the PGA Tour full time.
“I already felt good enough,” Morikawa said, retelling the story Sunday after his victory in the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park.
“When I woke up today, I was like, ‘This is meant to be. This is where I feel very comfortable.’ ” – Collin Morikawa
Three victories in 29 PGA Tour starts later, Morikawa has rocketed not just to the front of a fresh class that includes Matthew Wolff and Viktor Hovland, but to fifth in the world rankings one year into his professional career.
Depending on what happens at the first FedEx Cup playoff event next week at the Northern Trust, it’s possible Morikawa can reach No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
It’s sudden, but as Morikawa demonstrated in shooting 65-64 on the weekend to win the PGA Championship, there is no target too big for the 23-year-old.
“I feel very comfortable in this spot,” Morikawa said Sunday night. “When I woke up today, I was like, ‘This is meant to be. This is where I feel very comfortable. This is where I want to be, and I’m not scared from it.’ I think if I was scared from it, the last few holes would have been a little different, but you want to be in this position.
“And for me, it doesn’t stop here. I’ve got a very good taste of what this is like, what a major championship is like. I really do miss the fans. I know we all had to have some type of adjustment not having fans; when fans do start coming back hopefully at some point, it’s going to be an adjustment, but this is where I want to be. I love it.”
Interestingly, two of Morikawa’s three PGA Tour wins have come with no fans (the other being the Workday Charity Open at Muirfield Village). Would it have been different had thousands of fans been ringing the par-4 16th hole where Morikawa hit the shot of the championship?
Yes, but that doesn’t mean the outcome would have been different. Morikawa showed his tenacity at the Workday when he made a 25-footer on the first extra hole to extend a playoff after Thomas had made what appeared to be a tournament winning 50-footer before him. There was no crowd noise to deal with but Morikawa didn’t surrender when Thomas landed a haymaker.
“There’s always kind of a new wave. There’s always a bunch of guys that rock up on the scene,” Paul Casey said. “He didn’t necessarily get the most publicity out of the group he was in, but I can consider myself veteran; I’ve been around the block, so I know talent when I see it.
“I don’t like the term ‘talent,’ but you know when somebody is good, and Collin was good. We could just tell. Those of us who knew, knew that was the cat that … he’s the one.”
Tony Finau, who knows better than most how difficult it is to win on the PGA Tour, sees the same thing.
“He’s a heck of a player. He doesn’t have a weakness in his game. He doesn’t have a weakness mentally,” Finau said.
“So, when you’re dealing with that type of talent, he’s going to be somebody to beat in major championships for a lot of these things. This isn’t a guy that’s just going to pop up and disappear for the next five years.”
Morikawa is a brilliant ballstriker and the numbers bear it out. He ranks 16th on tour in strokes gained off the tee (despite being 107th in driving distance) and he’s second in strokes gained approaching the green. He’s rarely out of position, which is especially valuable in major championships.
If there’s a weak spot, Morikawa isn’t a great putter (he ranks 140th in strokes gained putting), but as he has shown, he has a knack for making the putts he needs. He seems to play with a clarity of purpose, unaffected by whatever might be going on around him and resolute in playing his way, even if it goes against the grain of today’s super-powered approach.
One year in, at a time when many young players are still figuring out how to travel and learning to trust themselves, Morikawa has leapfrogged the process. He arrived ready and now that he finds himself being compared to Tiger Woods and others who had major success at a young age, Morikawa has his own plan in place.
“They are not expectations, they are all goals,” Morikawa said. “Expectations are what you put on me. That is what I filter out and what I don’t hear because I have set goals, and last year the goal obviously was to get some type of status and to learn from it.
“Yeah, Canada from the start, I felt very comfortable, but there’s a very different sense of comfort now.”
Top: Collin Morikawa has felt at ease since arriving on the PGA Tour, and that didn’t change at TPC Harding Park. Photo: Sean M. Haffey, Getty Images
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