Collin Morikawa sees promising signs at PLAYERS with 65
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Written by Sean Martin @PGATOURSMartin
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Collin Morikawa couldn’t sit still Saturday. What was supposed to be a day off turned into a search to fix his swing.
After making the two-hour drive north from Orlando, where he missed the cut in the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, Morikawa decided to take advantage of TPC Sawgrass’ private practice facility instead of taking a break from the game. The course was closed to the public in preparation for THE PLAYERS and many of Morikawa’s peers were still competing at Bay Hill. It provided the perfect setting for him to get to work.
“I just wanted to figure it out,” he said.
Aside from 10 minutes on the chipping green, Morikawa devoted his focus to his full swing. He hit balls for two hours per day on each of the next three days, using the back of the range that is reserved for TOUR players throughout the year.
The TOUR players’ practice grounds at TPC Sawgrass
“I probably hit five bags Saturday and another five or six on Sunday and then another five or six on Monday, which I rarely do,” he said Thursday after shooting 65 in THE PLAYERS’ opening round. “But it was just to find the one feel. It was like how do you find that feel again? It was great.”
Morikawa’s epiphany was an unintended benefit of failing to qualify for the final two rounds of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard. The opportunity to spend the weekend practicing, instead of trying to post a score on one of the most difficult courses of the year, allowed him to uncover a swing key so important that he joked he was going to keep his team “on lockdown” to keep it from getting out.
Thursday’s 65 at TPC Sawgrass was another promising sign as he tries to end a winless drought that dates to the 2021 Open. He has three finishes of T6 or better in five starts this year and now the confidence that comes from his weekend discovery.
He was bogey-free Thursday, making five birdies and an eagle. He was one shot behind leader Chad Ramey after the conclusion of the morning wave, and his round could have been even lower. He closed his round by watching birdie putts of 11, 20 and 6 feet narrowly slide by the hole.
“It's a course you really can't get away with anything,” Morikawa said of TPC Sawgrass. “You have to hit it well off the tee. Obviously, you have to hit some good approach shots. But if you're hitting it well off the tee, you're going to give yourself some birdie opportunities. I think today that's what I was able to do. Even though I missed a few fairways, for the most part, the birdie holes I was in the middle of the fairway and I was able to get myself close enough to have a good putt at it and have a good look.”
Collin Morikawa throws a dart to capture birdie at THE PLAYERS
Morikawa hit nine of 14 fairways and 13 greens, gaining more than 3.5 strokes with his approach play. A 20-footer on the 15th hole was the longest putt he made all day. That was his first birdie of the day, followed by one on the par-5 16th to make the turn in 2-under 34. He played the first four holes of his second nine in 4 under, adding an eagle on No. 2, where he hit his 235-yard second shot to 4 feet, to birdies on the first and fourth holes. He added one final birdie at the par-4 sixth hole.
He played in the group ahead of Thursday’s marquee threesome comprised of the top three players in the world ranking: Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy. Morikawa was once among that group, ranking as high as No. 2 in the world ranking. He sits 10th in the world this week, however.
This is his lowest round at TPC Sawgrass, beating the final-round 66 he shot in 2021 to finish T41. He missed the cut here last year after playing on the harder side of the draw in a week defined by wild weather.
TPC Sawgrass’ PLAYERS Stadium Course seems built for Morikawa and his ball-striking acumen. Pete Dye designed a course that doesn’t require inordinate length, rewarding players instead who can avoid the water hazards, pot bunkers and awkward lies that await players who stray from the short grass.
Morikawa turned pro in 2019 and won in just his sixth PGA TOUR start. He combined for four wins, including two majors, in 2020 and 2021. Last year was the most frustrating of Morikawa’s brief career, however, because he couldn’t always rely on the trusty fade that had been the bedrock of his ball striking.
“I'm back to playing how I used to. I'm trying to enjoy it,” he said. “What I found earlier this week, my swing hasn't looked this good probably since 2019 when I first came out. I played very well (in) 2020, 2021, but position-wise I just love where I'm at right now.
“I'm very happy with that, and that just allows that freedom to just kind of forget about everything else and hit your shot.”
He is the only player hitting at least 70% of his fairways and greens this season, ranking third in driving accuracy and 12th in greens hit. His win at The Open in 2021 gave him two majors and a World Golf Championship before his 25th birthday. He admitted Thursday that he didn’t always feel comfortable with his swing during some of his most successful stretches, however.
“In 2020 and 2021, don’t get me wrong the swing looked great, it was still great but they were Band-aids,” Morikawa said. “You could tell there were little periods of like a month-and-a-half and then I would kind of lose it.
“Who knows? Maybe in a year I’m going to tell you this is a Band-Aid but I think what I am doing right now is the best swing I’ve seen on camera since 2019, since I’ve turned pro.”
And now he has the opportunity to add another of the game’s biggest titles to his resume. It will have been worth the wait.
Sean Martin is a senior editor for the PGA TOUR. He is a 2004 graduate of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. Attending a small school gave him a heart for the underdog, which is why he enjoys telling stories of golf's lesser-known players. Follow Sean Martin on Twitter.