British Open 2021

'Pretty special' Morikawa

Mental strength, maturity, solid ball striking deliver 2nd Major for Californian

American golfer Collin Morikawa reacting on the 18th green at the British Open on Sunday. The 24-year-old won by two strokes with a 15-under 265 total and is the first men's player to win two different Majors in his first appearance.
American golfer Collin Morikawa reacting on the 18th green at the British Open on Sunday. The 24-year-old won by two strokes with a 15-under 265 total and is the first men's player to win two different Majors in his first appearance.PHOTO: REUTERS

SANDWICH • Louis Oosthuizen had certainly paid his dues since winning the British Open in 2010, finishing as runner-up on six occasions at golf's Majors.

Jordan Spieth had paid a few, too, reviving his fading game after two years of struggle.

But Collin Morikawa is a young man in a hurry, and on Sunday, he again proved that experience was over-rated, winning the British Open on his first attempt by outplaying South African Oosthuizen in the final pairing and holding off Spieth on the closing holes.

"You have to embrace it," Morikawa, a 24-year-old Californian, said. "You have to be excited about these opportunities, and that's how I looked at it today, especially coming down the stretch."

Much easier said than done, but Morikawa looked focused yet not too tightly wound from the start: Chuckling with his caddie J.J. Jakovac as they walked up the first fairway and then holding remarkably firm as the pressure continued to rise on another sun-drenched afternoon at the Royal St George's Golf Club.

He might not have won a British Open in classic conditions - howling winds, driving rain and summer chill - but he still won it in style. He made four birdies and nary a bogey as he shot a four-under 66 to finish at 15-under, two strokes ahead of fellow American Spieth, who was in the penultimate group and playing very well.

"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," Spieth said of Morikawa.

"I don't think there's anything I need to even say about it that hasn't already been talked about or that he's certainly proven.

"He swings the club beautifully, gets it in positions that make it very, very difficult to not start the ball online, so therefore he's going to be very consistent tee to green."

Royal St George's is the same venerable and undulating English seaside course where another young American, Ben Curtis, prevailed on his first visit in 2003. But Curtis was a huge surprise who has yet to win another Major. Morikawa is an established threat who was ranked fourth in the world when he arrived in Sandwich.

Last year, he won the PGA Championship, also on his first attempt, calmly staring down a closely packed leaderboard in the closing holes at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco to claim his first Major.

Learning curve? What learning curve?

"It's the same thing I said after he won the PGA. It seems like he's been there 100 times, and he just hasn't," Jakovac said. "It just goes to his mental strength and his maturity, and you add the freakish ball striking to an absolute stone-cold demeanour who is very comfortable in all the situations - you get somebody pretty special."

Morikawa is the first player in men's golf to win two different Major championships in his first appearance in them. He is only the second player to win twice in his first eight Majors. The other was Bobby Jones in 1926.

For reference, it took Tiger Woods 18 starts to win his first two Majors. That is not to imply that we should be rushing to compare Morikawa to Woods, a 15-time Major champion who became one of the biggest stars in global sports. But Morikawa has major dreams of his own.

He graduated with a business degree in 2019 after four years at the University of California, Berkeley.

He is not the longest hitter and has sometimes struggled mightily with his putting. His dreamy long-iron play is the core of his game. Slow backswings are his hallmark.

He is a deliberate player - the unexamined shot is definitely not worth hitting - but he clearly has a knack for preparing himself mentally for the game's biggest challenges.

"I've had belief in myself from Day 1 that I turned professional that I can do it," Morikawa said.

"When it comes to these tournaments I've never played, I do my work, do my homework Monday through Wednesday to know what I have to do."

He took it all in and did not crack. Instead, it was 38-year-old Oosthuizen who failed to close it out despite leading throughout much of the tournament.

Morikawa took a share of the lead at the fourth hole on Sunday and never relinquished it despite an inspired charge from Spieth, 27, who won the 2017 British Open.

"I'm glad I look calm because the nerves are definitely up there, but you channel these nerves into excitement and energy," Morikawa said. "You can't worry about the score. I had to worry about every shot. Can I execute every shot to the best of my ability? Some we did, some we didn't, and then you move on."

NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2021, with the headline ''Pretty special' Morikawa'. Subscribe