That Collin Morikawa’s incredible PGA Championship win at Harding Park, San Francisco, was met with a mere smattering of applause is perhaps one of 2020’s ultimate sporting contradictions.
Not that the then-23-year-old minded. He had just shot a 64 to tie with the lowest final round of any PGA champion, and in only his third win as a pro had made it to the very top table of the sport.
Even in the quietest of victory moments, Morikawa’s win offered a high-decibel warning to the golf world – a new force had stepped forward.
RSNG What did it mean to you to win the 2020 PGA Championship? COLLIN MORIKAWA, PGA CHAMPION ‘It’s everything you dream of – the circumstances were slightly surreal, although 99% of what you do as a golfer is without hoards of people cheering you on, so in that respect I guess the moment was natural.”
“It was on day three where I really made my move, and although I knew Paul [Casey] and Dustin [Johnson] were close by, by the time I stepped onto the green I knew I had done it.”
“It was difficult not to break out into a broad smile when I saw JJ – the feeling was incredible and is one I will cherish for the rest of my life. It’s as simple as that.”
RSNG You’ve said in the past that golf is a team effort, so what happens when you disagree with your caddy? COLLIN MORIKAWA “My opinion is we win and we lose together. I have been with my caddy, JJ, for so long now, that we’ve been through many episodes where we’ve both had an eye on something, or a feel for a shot. Sometimes that feeling is proved right, other times it’s wrong, but we go through that process together and we trust each other’s instincts.”
“The biggest thing is honesty – if you think something is wrong, you say it; it’s as simple as that.”
“The bond you have with your caddy is so strong that I think when it goes wrong it can impact everything you do. That’s why we’ve been together for so long, and the same goes for my coach. And I spend more time with these guys than anyone else.”
“When I win a tournament the first person I turn to look for is my caddy, JJ – I think that says it all.”
When I win a tournament the first person I turn to look for is my caddy, JJ – I think that says it all
RSNG In an era where players are chasing distance, what are your thoughts on club head speed vs accuracy? COLLIN MORIKAWA “Every golfer will say he has the right combination that works for him, or her. I know a few guys have gone through processes of pushing club head speed, but you generally get to a point where the accuracy begins to go.”
‘Golf is ultimately a game of play-offs. You can try to relax your arms and shoulders, stay centered and push on through the hitting area, and getting the combination right can have a big effect, but if you’re looking to change more than one of those at the same time you’re going to run into problems, and even changing one may mean you impact on another.’
‘Ultimately I’m happy with the distances I am hitting. If I’m playing alongside Bryson, for example, I know he may well be pushing 80 or 100 yards past me off the tee, but I know I can make that distance up in other ways.’
RSNG How important is fitness to your golf game? COLLIN MORIKAWA ‘Very important. It’s the platform for hitting quality iron shots and quality drives, so for me it’s the very first point of putting together a competitive score.’
RSNG Do you work on mobility and strength away from the course? COLLIN MORIKAWA ‘My gym work is programmed but pretty standard. For me it’s about maintaining good upper body strength, being regimented in cardio but not over the top, and mostly recognising good diet and ensuring plenty of rest. Those four pillars combine to create in me the player I am.’
‘I also love swimming. All my family have been swimmers as we grew up spending weekends at the sea. I would say I’ve built more strength and stamina through swimming than anything else – it is an incredible platform for fitness.’
Putting is such a simple action that can go wrong with even the very smallest flaw in your technique
RSNG What else has made you the player you are? COLLIN MORIKAWA ‘Actually, for me so far it’s been as much about what I do away from the course. That is what gives me balance, control and the off switch.’
‘I am always studying and learning, and golf has been a part of my life that has developed into a career, so while I put to one side the baseball, basketball to drive forward my ambition to make it, I always retained focus on things away from sport – I didn’t want to get totally overrun by it, because you don’t know what the future holds. This is just the way it has turned out, but I don’t want that to affect my love of learning, of business, and all the other things that got me to where I was when I turned pro in 2019.’
RSNG How did you work with TaylorMade to build you the perfect putter? COLLIN MORIKAWA ‘Putting has been a big part of me bringing my whole game together. If you can’t putt, you can’t win holes or post low scores, and it’s such a simple action that can go wrong with even the very smallest flaw in your technique.’
‘So to see that coming together has been great, and working with Taylor Made has been a part of that in developing a putting tool that works to my body position and grip. There are other little bits added in such as a steel insert to give the putter more rigidity, but mostly it’s been about taking a couple of degrees off the loft and the shaft angle.’
‘When you get to the point where you know it works, you will not want to change it, and that’s the aim for every club.’
RSNG Have you been amazed at the difference those tweaks have made? COLLIN MORIKAWA ‘I think it’s a lesson for all golfers, particularly those playing through slight flaws in technique that end up having big effects on the green. We can’t all go having clubs modified so it isn’t a whole-game option, although I used Taylor Made’s online portal which is available to anyone, so that option is there and it works.
‘More than just the club, it’s also about constantly refining your own game. A big thing for me has been a real focus on club speed on putts – a lot of that comes with repetition and confidence, so those are things I have been working on.’
Fitness is the very first point of putting together a competitive score
RSNG How do you deal with those high pressure shots on the big days? COLLIN MORIKAWA “A lot of it comes down to repetition and trust. I know I have been playing these shots for years and it is just a case of doing all the right things and, if done well, the right results will come.”
RSNG You seem calm and relaxed on the course when it comes to the big moments? COLLIN MORIKAWA "I am. I wouldn’t let the importance of a shot get to me. In fact, I’m probably more on edge when I’m taking on a shot with a big sidewind – that would get me more out of my comfort zone than being on the lead in the back nine."
"I think contending with variable elements around you, like the weather conditions, provides much more risk and changeability than you will experience compared to mental strength from within that I’ve been refining over the years."
WHAT NEXT? Find out how to optimise your gym time for more golfing power with the founder of the GolfWod App.
Still here? Get into Collin Morikawa’s technique by watching this slow-mo swing analysis: