Collin Morikawa: “Winning on my Open debut wasn’t a fluke”

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Collin Morikawa reveals why he’s better prepared for this year’s Open Championship and how he owes his victory at Royal St George’s to the Scottish Open and a major equipment change.

Today’s Golfer’s 2022 Major coverage is brought to you in association with TaylorMade.

By his own high standards, Collin Morikawa has hit a rocky patch of form. His signature fade has deserted him and whatever he and his coach tries, they can’t quite get it back.

He says he’s done fighting it, but he’s still finding it “really hard” to trust his new baby draw, which he hasn’t played since his first year in college.

It worked beautifully for the first two rounds of the US Open before a horror showing on Saturday took him out of the lead and shot him out of contention.

Instead, he had to settle for a share of fifth, his first top-25 finish since the Masters. The World No.4 hasn’t tasted victory since the DP World Tour Championship last November – his longest winless streak since he turned pro – but his body of work shows that he tends to show up on the biggest stage.

Collin Morikawa won the DP World Tour Championship and the Race to Dubai.

The 25-year-old won The Open at his first attempt last summer and is now targeting another slice of history at St Andrews by becoming only the eighth man to defend the Claret Jug in the modern era.

“Being defending champion at the 150th Open at St Andrews, you can’t script it any better,” he smiles. “Other than being the defending champion at the 151st!” Hopefully, I can pull it off with the energy of all those 290,000 fans.”

As a student of the game, Morikawa is already giddy at the prospect of defending his title and walking on hallowed turf around the town.

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He’s ashamed to admit he’s never visited the Home of Golf before, though it’s easy to assume he’s played it plenty of times virtually, just like many of the younger generation. It helps that his caddie, JJ Jakovac, was on Ryan Moore’s bag at the 2015 Open at St Andrews, which is another reason why they have no intention of making any special trips beforehand.

“People ask me if I’m going to go over there early or take a couple of trips, says Morikawa. “I really have never done that for any Majors. At the end of the day, I need to go out there Monday through Wednesday and just do my normal prep. I can’t play it like people have played it in the past. We don’t know what the weather is going to be like.

“I think having an experience of a year ago, I’m going to be able to adjust a little quicker than I did last year. In that Open I took a lot of risks, changing some irons, changing a little bit in the putter set-up. But I think I’ll be a little more prepared this year and ready to figure out how to dissect this golf course to the best of my abilities.”

And while he has access to plenty of players with vast experience of The Old Course, he has no plans to pick anyone else’s brain.

“I like to try to figure it out myself,” he said. “If I listen to too many people, I start going away from playing my game. I’ve done that in the past and it hasn’t really turned out the way I wanted, so I’ll just go out and do what I do best.”

Collin Morikawa's equipment issues at the 2021 Scottish Open led to some last minute changes before The Open.

As part of his preparations, Morikawa will compete in the R&A’s Celebration of Champions event at St Andrews, which takes place over the 1st, 2nd, 17th and 18th holes on Monday, July 11. He also plans on playing the Scottish Open the week before, which he credits with turning around his fortunes a week before The Open last year.

“I owe a lot to that tournament for getting me ready and actually making me realise that I needed to change some irons. My game was in great shape. But I came over to play the Scottish and I started hitting 9-irons to 45 feet, missing greens, and it was just frustrating.

“I wanted to blame it on my clubs, and rarely that’s the case, but I really did. But I stuck with it. I made some changes, and there we were at Royal St George’s making a few changes on Monday and ended up winning.”

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The former World Amateur No.1 says the victory gives him the confidence to adapt to any situation and make tough decisions.

“That’s what I’ve been doing for the past three years; trying to figure out what I need to adapt, how do I need to change. It was a risk. It was a risk for me just to tell my caddie, “I want to change irons”. He looked at me like I was crazy! Even the TaylorMade reps were going with the flow, saying, “Yeah, maybe that’s the case”, and it really was.

“I knew something was off in just how I was making contact with the ball, so I had to make a change. When it comes down to risk, sometimes you’re going to get rewarded like last year, sometimes it’s going to be a failure. But either way you’re going to learn from it.”

Collin Morikawa celebrates in front of the famous leadboard after his victory at Royal St George's.

Having made such a fast start to his professional career, Morikawa was hardly lacking in self-belief, but he admits winning the oldest Major at the very first attempt took his confidence to new levels.

“I think I’ve always had that belief that I can do it,” he smiles. “You only get four Majors a year, and it’s tough, you have to be able to close them out. I’m not saying they’re easy. I’ve just been fortunate the way things have gone my way, and sometimes you need a little luck on your side. We’ve had that for two of my Majors so far.

“If you just look at how I played at the Scottish Open, no one would have looked at me to even contend at The Open. But in my mind I felt like my game was there, I just needed to make a couple of tweaks to make sure I wasn’t hitting 9-irons to 45 feet! So, being able to close another Major, at a place and a location where I’ve really not had
a lot of experience, that gave me a lot of confidence.”

Morikawa finished the season on a high with victory at the DP World Tour Championship, winning the Race To Dubai, but he’s yet to win in 2022 and has even faced questions over his allegiance to the Tours, forcing him to quash rumours he was planning to join the rebel LIV Golf Series.

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“My alliance is to the PGA Tour,” he says. “Will I still watch what’s going on? I mean, yeah. You’re curious to what’s going on. But do I care who’s going to be playing or do I care who’s going to be making money? No, not at all.

“At the end of the day I’m here to win Majors. I’m here to win PGA Tour tournaments and hopefully return and defend my Race to Dubai title. There’s a lot of other things that are on my mind and a lot of goals that I set at the beginning of the year that I look forward to. So far, I haven’t won at all. So I want to get back out there and win and finish off this year on a good note.”

Collin Morikawa won the US PGA Championship in 2020.

But why hasn’t his game reached the dizzy heights of previous seasons in 2022.

“I think overall the consistency has been there. I’ve been happy to see that. I just haven’t been able to win,” he says. “That’s a whole other part of how you kind of judge a season so far. We’ve kind of had some late charges, just not putting together three good rounds ready for Sunday. But overall, things are trending in the right direction, which is nice.

RELATED: What did Morikawa win for his Open victory?

“The standards have gone up and the standards sometimes are a little too high and they end up hurting me rather than helping me. I feel like I should hit an 8-iron to 10 feet every single time, but it just doesn’t happen.

“I still think when my iron game’s on, it’s better than everyone’s. It would be bad for me to think otherwise because then I’m showing up to these events thinking, OK, I’ve got to do everything so perfectly. But I still think I can play an OK game and get away with a week and possibly win.”]

Collin Morikawa with the Claret Jug after his win at Royal St George's.

The equipment changes that won Morikawa The Open

Adrian Rietveld was the man tasked with finding a fast fix for Morikawa ahead of his Open debut. We sat down with TaylorMade’s Senior Tour Manager to find out exactly how he did it.

Adrian, tell us what happened with Collin before last year’s Open…

Collin called me after his final round at the Scottish Open, and said he was not striking his mid and short-irons as well as he usually would. He felt his strike was fractionally off and it was exaggerated when trying to shape shots. He asked, “Can you do anything about it?” I needed time to think, but said I’d meet him at The Open the following day.

So what did you do?

Overnight, I’d thought about what Collin had described, and I started to think about the sole geometry differences between his TaylorMade P730 (muscleback) 7, 8, 9-irons and PW, compared to his usual P7MC 5 and 6-irons. When we met on the TaylorMade truck at Royal St George’s, he said he wasn’t sure if it was in his head, but he felt he was hitting the 6-iron better than the short irons.

The P7MC irons have a fraction less leading-edge relief and a little less bounce. So, if the P730 blades were bouncing a little in the turf, or not quite getting into the turf enough for the strike to be high enough on the face, then the strike would not feel good.

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Adrian Rietveld and TaylorMade built news irons and pitching wedge for Collin Morikawa ahead of The Open in 2021.

How did you fix it?

We had to build new P7MC 7, 8, 9-irons, plus a pitching wedge. When Collin arrived on Monday we had the clubs ready and headed to the range with a TrackMan. He hit P7MC 7-iron versus P730 7-iron and worked his way down through the 8s, 9s and pitching wedges.

We could see the MCs were launching fractionally higher (which is what a cavity iron does), but the strike was noticeably different in terms of sound. We looked at the numbers and when he started to hit more shaped shots, he noticed how he was getting a little more control and consistency. The window was a little lower with the P730 blades than he was used to on lush US courses, so the switch made sense.

RELATED: How Adrian Rietveld fits Rory McIlroy’s clubs

How unusual is it for players to make wholesale equipment changes at a major?

It’s extremely rare, but if someone is struggling, changing their equipment could be a lifeline to finding their game. Collin did it for the right reasons – to put himself in a position to win the tournament, and bear in mind he’s already the best iron player in the world. Nine times out of 10 we’d be trying to talk a guy out of doing what he did, but this is what we live for. It’s created a huge buzz throughout the company.

A last-minute tweak to his putter helped Collin Morikawa win The Open.

And you changed his putter, too?

He asked if any had a harder face as he was struggling with the slow greens in Scotland. He was thinking he might just need to adjust to hitting putts harder, but I suggested putting heavier weights in his current head. All of a sudden, the speed and distance matched what he expected.

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