Column: With another major, Morikawa charting new path

Jul 19, 2021, 11:35 PM | Updated: Jul 20, 2021, 12:06 pm

Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus. Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth.

Add another name with whom Collin Morikawa is now linked by his remarkable run through the majors in a span of 343 days. This one is a little out of left field, but it speaks to how much Morikawa has achieved in his short time on the PGA Tour.

He will be the first player since Andy North in 1985 to make his debut in the Ryder Cup having already won two majors.

It was different back then, of course. Tour players had to serve an apprenticeship before they could even become PGA of America members and be eligible. North won the U.S. Open twice before playing in his first Ryder Cup.

“I think it was three years before you could start getting Ryder Cup points,” North said Tuesday. “And then you had to go through a three-day school. We had to take a rules test. That’s why a lot of players didn’t play in as many Ryder Cups as you would think.”

Nicklaus, for example, had already won seven majors when he played his first Ryder Cup.

“He is special,” North said, turning his thoughts back to Morikawa. “I was around him quite a bit at the PGA Championship because no one was there. He was the most mature, ready player that I’ve seen in long, long time.”

And there’s still a long road ahead for the 24-year-old Californian.

There were a lot of obscure records that came along with that silver claret jug he won at Royal St. George’s. Not since Jones has a player won two professional majors in eight starts or fewer. Nicklaus, Woods, Spieth and Rory McIlroy are all on the list of having two majors before turning 25. Nicklaus won two of those when trailing after 54 holes, just like Morikawa.

The numbers are equally impressive: A closing 64 to win the PGA Championship at Harding Park last August, a 66 on the final day to win the British Open on Sunday. He played his last 23 holes of the PGA and his last 31 holes at the Open without a bogey.

And he took his own place in the record book as the first man to win two majors in his first time playing them.

His calm, his polish, his poise would suggest Morikawa is never in a hurry. His record indicates otherwise. And his wisdom was evident Saturday night when he was asked about playing in the final group at a major for the first time.

“I’ve never been in the position all the other previous times,” he replied.

Everything is new. And then he makes everything seem old hat.

Morikawa still thinks back to the dinner he had with Justin Thomas on the eve of his pro debut in June 2019. Thomas assured him that while every path is different — some short, some longer — talent is never denied. Morikawa won in his sixth start.

Winning two majors in two years elevates Morikawa to among the elite in golf, and he’ll face even more attention and scrutiny next week at the Olympics, and at Whistling Straits for his first Ryder Cup.

If there are lessons to be learned — he has proven to be adept at that — it’s to reset the goals. That’s what he feels he failed to do when he won the PGA Championship last year.

“I’m not going to throw everything into the trash and just say, ‘OK, we’re a completely different person.’ But goals have to change,” Morikawa said. “I didn’t do that last year.”

And it showed. He had missed only one cut in his first 22 starts against a full field. And then he missed three cuts in a row at tournaments that had a cut. He had only two top 10s in his final nine tournaments in 2020.

“I want to finish on a strong note in the season, and I’m going to sit down — when things slow down, hopefully — and try and embrace that and figure out what’s next,” Morikawa said.

There doesn’t seem much holding him back.

His putting stood out at Royal St. George’s, especially the ones he buried on the 14th and 15th holes (one for birdie, one for par) that were pivotal. Without data available at the British Open, his performance won’t apply to his PGA Tour ranking in the key putting statistic.

Morikawa ranks 170th. The only other top 10 player ranked outside the top 100 in putting on the PGA Tour is Thomas at No. 108.

It hasn’t kept him from winning two majors and a World Golf Championship among his five victories in just 52 individual tournaments worldwide.

“Stay down the path he’s on,” Spieth said. “He swings the club beautifully, gets it in positions that make it very, very difficult to not start the ball on line. So therefore, he’s going to be very consistent tee to green. Clearly, with the shots he’s hit and the putts he’s holed, he’s not afraid of high pressure situations and winning a major championship.

“I think winning one can happen to a lot of people playing really good golf in one week,” he said. “Winning two, three or more, he’s obviously proven that this stage is where he wants to be.”

___

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Column: With another major, Morikawa charting new path