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Collin Morikawa Wins the British Open in His First Appearance

Collin Morikawa Wins the British Open in His First Appearance
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Collin Morikawa Wins the British Open in His First Appearance

Collin Morikawa Wins the British Open in His First Appearance

SANDWICH, England – Louis Oosthuizen had certainly paid his dues since winning the British Open in 2010, finishing second six times in major championships.

Jordan Spieth had paid a few as well, reviving his declining game after two years of struggle.

But Collin Morikawa is a young man in a hurry, and on Sunday he proved the experience to be overrated again, winning the British Open on his first attempt by beating Oosthuizen in the final duet and fending off Spieth on the final holes.

“You have to accept it,” said Morikawa, a 24-year-old Californian. “You must be excited about these opportunities, and that’s how I saw it today, especially in the home stretch.”

Much easier said than done, but Morikawa looked focused but not too curled up from the start: chuckling with his caddy, JJ Jakovac, as they made their way up the first fairway, then holding themselves remarkably firm as the pressure continued to mount on another sunny afternoon at Royal St. George’s Golf Club.

He might not have won a British Open in classic conditions – howling winds, pouring rain and summer cold – but he won it anyway in style. He had four birdies and not a bogey as he shot a four-under-66 to finish 15-under, two shots ahead of Spieth, who was playing in the penultimate group and playing very well.

“Obviously, with the shots he landed and the putts he landed, he’s not afraid of high pressure situations and winning a major championship,” Spieth said of Morikawa.

Royal St. George’s is the same venerable, hilly English seaside course where another young American, Ben Curtis, won on his first visit in 2003.

But Curtis was a huge surprise who has yet to win another major tournament. Morikawa is an established threat who was ranked fourth in the world when he arrived at Sandwich.

Last year he won the PGA Championship, also on his first attempt, calmly watching a tight standings in the final holes of TPC Harding Park in San Francisco to win his first major.

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Learning curve? What learning curve?

“It’s the same thing I said after he won the PGA. It looks like he’s been there 100 times, and he just hasn’t done it,” said Jakovac. “It just goes to his mental toughness and maturity, and you add the weird ball hitting to absolutely rock-cold demeanor that is very comfortable in any situation – you get someone quite special. . “

Morikawa is the first male golf player to win two different major championships in his first appearance.

He graduated with a business degree in 2019 after four years at the University of California, Berkeley. He’s not the longest hitter and sometimes struggled with his putting. His dreamy long iron game is at the heart of his game. Slow backswings are his hallmark. He’s a deliberate player – the unexamined shot is certainly not worth hitting – but he clearly has a knack for preparing himself mentally for the biggest challenges in the game.

“I believed in myself from day one that I turned pro and that I can do it,” said Morikawa.

“When it comes to these tournaments I’ve never played, I do my job, I do my homework Monday through Wednesday to find out what to do.”

With little experience on the links courses, he went to the Scottish Open the week before arriving at Royal St. George’s. He decided to change his 7, 8 and 9 irons before the start of the British Open. On Wednesday, the day before the tournament started, he decided to revert to a conventional putting grip for long distance putts in order to get more power.

It worked, and although he ranks near the bottom of the PGA Tour’s putting stats this season, he put up the pressure beautifully, especially on Sunday.

But while extensive research and smart changes clearly have their benefits, it’s still difficult to model outcomes like Sunday’s when you’re in the final pairing of a major behind a former champion like Oosthuizen by two strokes at the start of the game. tour with 32,000 fans gathered outside the ropes and ready to roar over mounds and ridges.

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He won the PGA Championship with no fans on hand due to the pandemic.

“I hope the thing is off the table that I can play with the fans and that I can play well on a Sunday,” Morikawa said.

He took it all on that particular Sunday and didn’t crack. Instead, it was Oosthuizen, the 38-year-old South African, who failed to close despite leading for much of the tournament.

Morikawa took a share of the lead at the fourth hole and took the tournament first lead on the seventh par-5, birdieing after Oosthuizen hit his approach shot in a bunker, then put – strike his next stroke in another bunker across the green. Oosthuizen finished with a bogey 6: a two-shot swing in what, at this point, looked like match play.

Morikawa never gave up the lead despite an inspired charge from Spieth, the 27-year-old American who won the 2017 British Open.

After a shaky start, Spieth landed an eagle on the seventh hole and snapped closer to Morikawa’s lead when he birdie putt on the 14th hole to go 13 under.

But Morikawa, well aware of Spieth’s push, quickly gave himself more cushion with a birdie putt uphill on the 14th hole to go down to 15 under. Spieth failed to close the gap despite all the spring in his step and the urgency of his words as he spoke to his punches in the air.

Morikawa closed his remarkable last major by paring the last four holes, with the only real scare at 15 where he hit his approach shot in a deep rough. But he did a chip within 10 feet and then hit the putt. He finished 15 under par of 265 after receiving a standing ovation from the full grandstand on the 18th hole. Spieth finished second at 13. Oosthuizen and Jon Rahm, this year’s US Open champion, tied for third at 11 under.

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“I’m glad I sound calm because the nerves are definitely up there, but you channel those nerves into excitement and energy,” he said. “That’s how I see it, especially as we approach the last nine holes. Jordan was making birdies. I think Rahm was pushing. Louis had a birdie of 11, an incredible birdie. You can’t care about the score. I had to care about every hit. Can I execute each stroke to the best of my ability? Some we did, some didn’t, and then you move on.

Morikawa is only the second player to win twice in his first eight majors. The other was Bobby Jones in 1926. For reference, it took Tiger Woods 18 starts to win his first two majors. That’s not to say we should rush to compare Morikawa to Woods, a 15-time major champion who has gone on to become one of the biggest stars in world sport. But Morikawa himself has big dreams.

“I think he has big goals in mind for his golfing career,” said Jakovac. “You should be more worried that he doesn’t like this enough.” He’s more like “let’s go get the next one”.

Was he already talking about the next Sunday?

“No,” Jakovac said. “But he did it after the PGA way too soon. I was like, ‘Fro, relax.’ ”

Morikawa seems to have got the message.

“At 24 it’s so hard to look back on the short two years that I was a pro and see what I did because I want more,” he said. “I enjoy these moments and love it. And I want to teach myself to kiss her a little more, maybe spend a few more days and sit down and drink this.

He was referring to the burgundy jug, which is awarded to the winner of the British Open and already had his name engraved on it as he held it closed on Sunday night.

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