Before the Zozo Championship in Japan last week, Collin Morikawa and his wife, Kat, flew into Tokyo early with a simple mindset: enjoy themselves.
Part of it was due to Morikawa’s Japanese ancestry and another part was breaking the routine of tournament week at this late date in the season. Morikawa even had the honor of having a 97-year-old sushi master make dinner for them during the visit.
“We spent four days – four full days – just eating. Like, visiting around, looking around Tokyo, but truly eating. We would eat at seven to eight spots a day, and that’s a lot,” Morikawa said Sunday after earning his sixth PGA Tour victory.
“There is something to it, just enjoying yourself and enjoying where you are. We don’t get to do that that often I think because it’s so routine. Every single week you show up, it’s just kind of the same spot, right? You know what to expect; you know what’s out there. This week I just treated it a little differently, not that I took it any lighter.”
The six-stroke victory at the Zozo, punctuated by a final-round 63, was Morikawa’s first win in more than two years, dating to his 2021 Open Championship triumph at Royal St. George’s.
His winless stretch didn’t draw the attention of the high-profile struggles of Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas in recent years, but Morikawa had not been the same crisp, seemingly mistake-free player who won two major championships barely two years into his PGA Tour career.
The most uncharacteristic moment came in January when Morikawa could not hold a six-stroke lead entering the final round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua. His final-round 72 included three straight back-nine bogeys and tied the PGA Tour record for the largest lost lead after 54 holes.
“Sadness,” was how Morikawa described his feelings that Sunday afternoon in Maui.
“They weren’t doubts. It wasn’t like I didn’t believe I was going to have another win or whatever, when that was going to happen. It was just more about when it was going to happen, right?” – Collin Morikawa
Ranked second in the world in the spring of 2022, Morikawa slipped to 23rd after the Open Championship this year. He had three solid finishes in the FedEx Cup playoffs, including a T4 at the Tour Championship, but he was 1-3-0 as part of the United States’ Ryder Cup team.
“They weren’t doubts. It wasn’t like I didn’t believe I was going to have another win or whatever, when that was going to happen. It was just more about when it was going to happen, right?” Morikawa said.
“I think the thoughts in your head start piling up of like, ‘OK, well, what did I do differently? What do I need to change?’ I think that’s when sometimes people go too far in one direction. … I had to take two steps back and really understand the foundation of what made me so solid of a player, say, in ’19, ’20 and ’21, and I really did that after we finished the playoffs.”
The narrative surrounding Morikawa has been a simple one: He’s one of the elite ball-strikers in the game, and his tournament success is determined by how well he putts.
It sounds like an oversimplification, but is it?
The last four PGA Tour seasons, starting in 2019-20, Morikawa has ranked second, first, third, and second in strokes gained on approach.
Those same four seasons (starting in ’19-20), he has ranked 128th, 178th, 131st and 111th in strokes gained putting.
In Japan, Morikawa and caddie, J.J. Jakovac, made a change in Morikawa’s putting technique early in the week and rolled with it through the tournament. Though Morikawa would not specify the adjustment, he intends to stick with it while giving Jakovac credit.
“It’s not like these guys are just carrying a golf bag, you know? He’s right there. He’s a friend; he’s a mentor; he’s someone I rely on; he’s someone I respect. I wouldn’t be here right now without him,” Morikawa said.
“We’ve spent so many hours just trying to figure this out, and he’s spent countless hours going through videos on his phone that I’ve sent him to try and figure it out of what made us better three years ago than where we are the past couple years. We tried everything. We’re trying a bunch of things. Sometimes you just, you hit it; you find what you need to find. It just happened to be that we had to just break it down a little bit more, go down a little bit more surface-level and understand it.”
With six wins by age 26, including two majors, Morikawa already has established himself among the best players of his generation. He is meticulous in his preparation, and his iron play is the envy of his peers.
Winning again answered any potential questions, whether they were coming from the outside or the inside.
“The goals don’t change. Trust me. I’ve shown up to majors the past couple years, showing up to all these tournaments, I fully believe that I can pull it off. But it’s nice to kind of just get that one out of the way, right?” Morikawa said.
“I compare it to winning your first PGA Tour event, winning your first major. The questions hopefully won’t be there, right? Just how do I continue it, how do I build off of it? That’s a great question. I think I just go back, look at it with my team and be like, ‘OK, what did we do great, and how do we continue this going forward?’ They’re fine margins; they really are.”
Top: Collin Morikawa earns his first victory since the 2021 Open Championship. Photo: Lintao Zhang, Getty Images
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