JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Two years ago, Collin Morikawa arrived at Liberty National Golf Club for the start of the FedEx Cup Playoffs just happy to be here.
He was ranked 49th in the FedEx Cup standings despite playing only nine events, the new kid on the block, fresh out of Cal-Berkeley in June and a newly-minted PGA Tour winner, having nabbed the Barracuda Championship in Reno, Nevada, to earn his way to The Northern Trust, the first of the three playoff events.
Fast-forward to the present and Morikawa is back as the Tour’s latest sensation, winner of two major championship – the PGA Championship in 2020 and the British Open in July – before he turns 25 years old in February. As a sign of his rising stature in the game, Morikawa enters the FedEx Cup playoffs in the pole position after topping the points race during the 47-event regular season. Even Morikawa stopped and reflected on his meteoric rise to World No. 3 since he last stepped foot on the grounds of Liberty National with Lady Liberty in the distance.
“Two years ago I was a lot more tired than I was this week,” recalled Morikawa, who finished a very pedestrian T-52 at Liberty National. “Having taken last week off, it was very nice. Last time I played, I had won Barracuda, played at Wyndham, and it was just a busy summer.”
A year ago at the start of the playoffs, Morikawa was still buzzing from the high of his victory at the PGA and entered the FedEx Cup playoffs in second place. But he ran out of steam in the post-season, including missing the cut at The Northern Trust when it was played at TPC Boston.
“I was so focused, let’s go win, win, win, and I think I was almost burnt out by the time I got to that third week knowing I’d be here,” he said. “Not everyone has the luxury of knowing where they’re going to stand coming to the Tour Championship, but I at least know I’m going to be there, I’m going to have a chance with four rounds no matter where I stand.”
Collin Morikawa tees off on the 18th during his final round of The 149th British Open. Photo by Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)
But not all was lost in last year’s playoff burn out. It was the disappointment of not playing his usual brand of golf during that three-week stretch combined with a continued lull during the fall season that may have lifted him to new heights this season. Given that his number of wins (5) is greater than the sum of his career missed cuts in individual stroke-play tournaments (4), it’s hard to say he’s gone through tough times but Morikawa points to his blips in performance as learning experiences.
“Because even during those weeks that I wasn’t playing great, I might have expected to play better, that my standards were higher just because I’d won a PGA. I look back at that now, and I don’t look at it as I struggled. I look at it as I had a different mental process. I was looking at golf a little differently that I should have, and I needed to go back to what I was doing great, what I was doing well to play great golf,” he explained.
How did he do that?
“I sat down with my coach, and we kind of reassessed and figured out, ‘What are we doing differently?’ They’re such small, minute things that no one would ever pick up on, but it’s something that, if I sit down with my coach for an hour and really talk through things, talk through the process for showing up at events, what I’m doing on the golf course, we find discrepancies of what I did that fall versus what I might have done the week before the PGA and the week of the PGA, right?” he said. “So these are things that we bring up now to make sure I don’t do them and I didn’t do them after the Open win, and thankfully I had that experience, I learned from it, and we move on. There’s going to be things that creep up into your head that aren’t good, and that’s just golf.”
For starters, don’t expect Morikawa to expend all his energy before the Tour Championship in Atlanta. He’s rested and motivated to claim the FedEx Cup and potentially PGA Tour Player of the Year honors as well.
“This is the finals for us,” Morikawa said. “I think I’m going to kind of look at this a little differently throughout these next couple weeks leading up to the Tour Championship and just see if I can plot my way to really peak in that third week rather than burn myself out in the first few.”
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