Collin Morikawa is a freak. He doesn’t leap tall buildings like the guy who plays for the Milwaukee Bucks or shock you with a couple of dozen tattoos and a nose ring, but he clearly differs from a vast majority of his PGA Tour brethren in both style and substance. He doesn’t yell at his ball like Jordan Spieth. He doesn’t swipe at the ground after he misses a 7-footer, as does Jon Rahm. Everybody marvels over Morikawa’s composure, but frankly, the kid doesn’t have much to get harried about.
If you played golf with such clarity, your emotions wouldn’t act up, either.
In this, the age of distance, distance and more distance, Morikawa is a throwback to a day when precision and tactical wherewithal were essential to a player’s success. His 2020-21 statistical data in the primary ballstriking categories is incredible. The most outrageous number is the 1.502 strokes per round Morikawa gains on shots into the green -- three times higher than Rory McIlroy, almost double Rahm’s .762 and a whopping 1.225 strokes better than Bryson DeChambeau, one of the poorest iron players among those in the Official World Golf Ranking’s top 50.
As for the 10 men who preside atop the OWGR, Morikawa is the shortest driver of the bunch, yet he leads PGA Tour in greens in regulation and is eighth in proximity to the hole. As opposed to DeChambeau, who drives it 27 yards past the British Open champ but checks in at No. 193 on the flagstick measurement. Just imagine being the proud owner of all that wasted power and going to such great lengths to tell everyone about it.
Life is a dredge if you can’t hit a wedge. Maybe the Brawny Brainiac isn’t such a genius, after all.
On any given week, Morikawa is basically playing a golf course 400 yards longer than DeChambeau. This discrepancy only makes his iron skill more astonishing -- he often needs two clubs more than the bombers to reach his destination. That would make things tougher for Morikawa if he spent half the day in the rough, so he doesn’t go there. He ranks 13th on the Tour in driving accuracy. Nobody else in the OWGR top 10 is in the top 50 when it comes to hitting fairways. Just two guys (Viktor Hovland, Louis Oosthuizen) make the top 100.
Back in the early 2000s, when David Toms was one of the best players in the game, he would occasionally bemoan the difficulty of competing against guys who constantly drove it past him. Although he wasn’t referring directly to a young Tiger Woods, some assumptions are more valid than others. Toms’ predicament had plenty of merit, except that Woods putted the ball better than he drove it a prodigious distance. Quality length has always been a golfer’s most treasured asset. It travels everywhere. It makes the rest of the game easier, and on those days when nothing’s falling, allows a tour pro to reach the scoring trailer without too much bother.
|Player||OWGR||Driving Distance||Greens In Regulation||Proximity To Hole|
Morikawa has missed one cut since last October, and that was at the team event in New Orleans. He failed to make the weekend just twice in 21 starts last season. He went 9-for-9 against the cut in 2019. This kid is never out of the game. He does things nobody else does. Who wins the Claret Jug on their first try? Who piles up more victories than MCs before their 25th birthday? Not since Woods has a player been steadier and more successful at a younger age than Morikawa, and now that he has claimed a second major title, you could argue for either in terms of the superior career launch.
Two words of caution come with such a comparison: Jordan Spieth. A three-time major champion before he turned 24, pro golf’s previous golden boy has only recently emerged from a 3 ½-year funk during which he failed to win a tournament of any size and eventually fell to 92nd in the OWGR. Spieth’s final-nine collapse at the 2016 Masters turned a money-in-the-bank closer into a bloodied phenom. When he squandered an excellent chance at Augusta National the following spring, the bloom was off the rose.
Spieth chased Morikawa harder than anyone two weeks ago at Royal St. George’s -- the ragged ballstriker doing all he could to catch another former phenom whose every approach seemed to make a beeline for the flag. Morikawa’s only dalliances with trouble came at the 10th and 15th, where he got up and down from the tall stuff with clutch par putts to preserve his lead. Yes, Spieth struck the ball much better at the British. He hit two-thirds of the fairways and almost three-quarters of the greens, but his short putting has killed him throughout 2021, and it happened again on the final hole of the third round.
Spieth’s career revival has been substantiated over the last six months, but there’s work to do and other players to track down. He ranks 20th on the Tour in strokes gained off the tee -- he was 90th last year, 157th in 2019 -- and still seems to hole more bombs than any three guys combined. For all his hard work, however, his only triumph came against a mediocre field at the Texas Open. That Spieth is currently in second place (behind Morikawa) in the FedEx Cup derby offers strong evidence that the point-accumulation structure is severely flawed.
There isn’t a tour pro on earth who wouldn’t trade five runner-up finishes for a trophy. Regardless of what the standings say, however, there is something genuinely healthy about having the two most decorated prodigies of the last 10 years -- two guys who get it done with something other than sheer strength -- perched atop Camp Ponte Vedra’s artificial little world.
Morikawa obviously has bigger fish to fry. Not for nothing, the young man is cooking with gas.