By Ron Green Jr.
After Collin Morikawa became the first American to win the Race to Dubai last month, capping an exceptional season that included the second major championship of his still-blossoming career, he was asked what’s next.
Where does a 24-year-old with five PGA Tour wins, two majors and the most admired iron game since a guy named Tiger Woods go from here?
“I’m going to set some high goals,” Morikawa said. “I always have. I’m going to set the bar as high as I can get and keep going.”
To borrow the line from Buzz Lightyear: to infinity and beyond.
Just 2½ years into his professional career, Morikawa has emerged as one of the most impressive and exciting young players in years, soaring to the top of the game on a path that seems almost preordained.
In a year in which Jon Rahm wore the world No. 1 ranking comfortably, won the U.S. Open and finished in the top 10 of every major championship as well as the Players Championship, and in which Patrick Cantlay won four times including the FedEx Cup, Morikawa is Global Golf Post’s men’s player of the year.
Morikawa didn’t arrive in 2021. He did that in 2020. This year, Morikawa spread his wings, took aim at No. 1 in the world and, in his quietly confident way, let everyone know he’s just getting started.
“There are other players, whether it’s fear of failure or fear of success, they are too uncomfortable,” said Rick Sessinghaus, Morikawa’s coach since he was 8 years old. “He gets excited about these opportunities that others see as stressful. He says, ‘Hey I signed up for this,’ ”
Here’s the short version of what earned Morikawa GGP’s player of the year award:
And, to hear Morikawa and others talk about what he’s done so far, there’s the sense that he can be better. Last week, David Feherty said on SiriusXM radio that he can see Morikawa winning double-digit majors.
To be clear, Morikawa isn’t perfect. He shanked a wedge shot in the Zozo Championship during the fall, which he later said was a first for him in competition.
If there is a rap on Morikawa, it’s that he’s not a great putter. Statistically, that’s true.
He ranked 178th on tour in strokes gained putting in the 2020-21 season but he’s holding the Claret Jug which sits alongside the Wanamaker Trophy he won at the PGA Championship 16 months ago – each secured in his first appearance in both majors.
What the numbers don’t show is how well Morikawa putts in the big moments. It’s what the great ones do. Watch his final round at Royal St. George’s where he won the Open Championship. Morikawa did it on the greens.
“He putts great – not just good but great – when he needs to,” Sessinghaus said. “He’s not a poor putter. He’s a clutch putter. Some weeks he’s better than others.
“From an average standpoint maybe he’s below that but show me a great iron player and a great putter. You don’t find them. Even Tiger (Woods) was a streaky putter.”
Morikawa adopted the saw grip on putts inside 25 feet after talking with Mark O’Meara about it in February. The first week wasn’t great. The second week, Morikawa won a WGC event.
“Everything about my stats say I’m not a good putter statistically,” Morikawa said. “I feel like I can get a lot better. But in these situations I feel like everything is thrown off the table. Forget about all your stats. Who can perform well in these situations?
“That's why I think over the past few majors you’ve seen a lot of the same names up there, because they believe in their game, they know what they’re doing when they practice, and they’re able to bring it out in these big moments.”
In the pre-pandemic summer of 2019, Morikawa arrived on the PGA Tour with Matthew Wolff and Viktor Hovland, one of the most celebrated groups of college players to debut together. They wasted no time winning, with Morikawa breaking through in his sixth start as a pro at the Barracuda Championship.
Since that summer, Morikawa – who hits a beautifully controlled fade – has stepped ahead of his peers and arrived at the Hero World Challenge last week with a chance to become the No. 1 player in the world.
And Morikawa – who became engaged last week to girlfriend Katherine Zhu – is just getting started.
“Collin said when he first turned pro, ‘Instead of trying to make cuts why not try to win?’ ” Sessinghaus said. “Once you start winning, it gets strengthened. He believes every week he can win.
“I can’t say I saw all this two years and five months ago. I knew he was going to be a successful player for many years because of his temperament, focus and iron play. But what he’s done, I couldn’t have guessed that.
“But he’s a fast learner.”
Top: Collin Morikawa during the 2021 Zozo Championship