Collin Morikawa gets quick chance for Masters improvement at Augusta National

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Brian Mull, Special to The Greenville News
·4 min read
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AUGUSTA, Ga. — The Masters is often unkind to rookies, and Collin Morikawa gained valuable insight during a shaky debut last fall.

Trust your game, even at Augusta National Golf Club.

Despite having won the PGA Championship three months earlier, Morikawa strayed from his reliable left-to-right ball flight off the tee in November and never became comfortable on the course, tying for 44th.

The No. 4 player in the world arrives this week confident he can contend, five weeks after a dominant victory at the WGC-Workday Championship.

“I wasn’t playing my game last year, last November, because everyone talks about hitting a draw and everyone talks about you’ve got to work your right-to-left, and, yeah, it helps, but I’ve played on golf courses where it doesn’t fit a fade and I’ve played all right,” he said. “So I know if I just get in my head and stick to what I’m doing, that’s what’s going to give you the best chance to hopefully win by Sunday.”

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One of golf’s best ballstrikers, Morikawa tied for 21st in greens in regulation in the 2020 Masters and tied for 36th in putting. In favorable scoring conditions, he failed to break 70 in any round.

Morikawa understands the challenge is expected to be much stiffer this week. The greens are already firmer and faster.

“Obviously the more reps you get, the better off you’re going to be. It’s never going to hurt you. So finally to be out here for a second time, feel a lot more comfortable,” Morikawa said. “I know where things are, and I know kind of just the nuances of everything. It just allows me to come on a Monday and just be fully prepared and ready to go play golf by Thursday.”

A significant part of his preparation includes paying close attention to his speed on the greens. He took that advice from frequent mentor Mark O’Meara, the 1998 Masters champion. Morikawa, who turned professional in June 2019 after an outstanding career at the University of California, also tries to learn from his peers who have mastered that skill.

Another path to the leaderboard includes less time on the course on the three practice days leading up to Thursday’s opening round.

“I normally don’t do more than that a day; so why change it because it’s a major, because it’s the Masters?” Morikawa said. “I’ve played enough majors now that I kind of know what I need to do. I’ve played enough tournaments to know what prep I need to do. So I’m just going to stick to that and really stick to what I do best and kind of stay along that path.”

The 24-year-old seems destined for success at Augusta National during his career. The course demands elite iron play, and not many in the game are better than Morikawa, the Tour’s leader in strokes gained on approach shots. He’s also fifth in greens in regulation and the past two champions, Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson, led the field in that area en route to victory.

Morikawa finished in the top 10 in both PGA Tour events in Hawaii in January. He was tied for 41st in his last stroke play start, at the Players last month.

Over the past several weeks, Morikawa has implemented a more neutral ball flight he can use off the tee on the right-to-left holes, such as 10 and 13, and also pointed to Johnson’s driving prowess last fall as proof a fader can thrive in the Masters.

“There’s a lot to take from and a lot to learn from last year, but I feel like this is a course I can still play really well at,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence. The game feels good.”

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