Cal Golf: Collin Morikawa Feeling Confident Before U.S. Open at Winged Foot

Photo by Brad Penner, USA Today

Jeff Faraudo

At the 120th U.S. Open this week, Collin Morikawa will take on a Winged Foot Golf Course that Tiger Woods called one of the two toughest in the country. 

But he’ll do it with confidence.

“Walking here as a major champion, you have a sense of knowing how to get things done,” said Morikawa, who won the PGA Championship last month. “Yes, I’ve only done it once, but I’ve done it. You just want it more.”

The 23-year-old Cal grad took last week off before tackling his second career U.S. Open, his third major. This event was originally scheduled for Father’s Day weekend, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now Morikawa, who tied for 35th at the same competition a year ago, will never face inquiries about when he might win a major.

“It’s nice, I guess, I won’t get that question asked,” Morikawa said. “But now it’s going to be what’s next and what are you going to win next.

“But that’s the thing; I’m not waking up every day realizing, Yeah, I’m a major champion. I’m realizing: We’re at the U.S. Open, let’s go win another tournament.”

The field is potent, of course, starting with recently crowned 2020 FedEx Cup champ and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Also on hand is 14-time major winner Woods. But there are some notable absences: Scottie Scheffler, the 24-year who won the tour’s Rookie of the Year award, was sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19. And two-time U.S. Open champ Brooks Koepka is out with knee and hip injuries.

Morikawa, coming off a sensational second professional season in which he finished sixth in the FedEx Cup championship, is a legit contender. He will tee off Thursday at 8:07 a.m. ET on the course at Mamaroneck, N.Y., in a group with Woods and Justin Thomas.

Two other former Cal golfers also are in the field: Max Homa tees off Thursday at 8:29 a.m. ET and Byeong Hun An goes at 1:49 p.m. ET.

Woods is on the radar of experts rating the field at Winged Foot:

— Daniel Rapaport of Golf Digest ranked Morikawa as the fourth-best player among the top 100 in the field. Here’s his extensive — and complimentary — evaluation:

“Already a major champion, three-time PGA tour winner and top-five player in the world, golf has its next American star. Mature beyond his years, he stared down an ultra-crowded leader board that included superstars at TPC Harding Park and emerged with the (PGA) trophy. His game fits the bill of the prototypical great U.S. Open player: tons of fairways and greens, and rarely makes a big mistake or beats himself. Odds are he’ll win at least one of these before he’s done. While he’s rightfully known already as perhaps the best iron player on tour — he finished second in strokes gained/approach last season — (he) won the PGA with his putter, as he (led) the field in strokes gained/on the the greens that week. Any time he putts anywhere close to that well, he’s going to have a chance down the stretch. Of courses, we cannot expect any player to follow up his first major with another in his very next start, but the course sets up well for him and he won’t shy away from the moment.”

— Ryan Lavner of the Golf Channel, who picked Johnson to win, has Morikawa pegged for sixth place. “Won the PGA when he matched up a hot putting week with his typically excellent iron play. That combo would work again nicely at Winged Foot,” Lavner wrote.

— CBS Sports' Kyle Boone is picking Morikawa to win it:

Kyle Boone of CBS picks Collin Morikawa to win the U.S. Open

By all accounts, Winged Foot is a beast.

Asked about it this week, Woods listed Winged Foot, Oakmont and Carnoustie as the three toughest in the country, then narrowed it to “this one or Oakmont.”

The U.S. Open has been played at Winged Foot five times previously, and only once was the winning score under par. That was in 1984, when Fuzzy Zoeller shot 4-under in what were considered softer conditions.

After Hale Irwin won at 7-over-over in 1974, Dick Schaap wrote a book called. “The Massacre of Winged Foot.” The cut was at 13-over that year.

Geoff Ogilvy prevailed in 2006, the most recent U.S. Open on this course, with a 5-over score. And Ogilvy only won after Phil Mickelson famously double-bogeyed the final hole.

Mark Cannizzaro, in the New York Post, wrote this week that weather conditions won’t help.

“The weather in the days leading up to this week’s U.S. Open has been cool and dry, and that trend is forecast to continue through tournament week,” he wrote. “That will make for firmer and faster conditions, which when combined with the narrow fairways and brutal, lush rough will make for tough scoring conditions.”

The winning score in the 13 tournaments since the PGA tour re-start has been 17.5 under par. Sounds like we shouldn’t expect anything close to that this week at Winged Foot.

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Collin Morikawa chips out of the bunker during a Tuesday practice round at Winged Foot
Collin Morikawa during his Tuesday practice round at Winged Foot.Photo by Danielle Parhizkaran, USA Today

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*** SI's Ryan Asselta previews the U.S. Open: 

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Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo

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