SANDWICH, England – Collin Morikawa, who played in his first Open Championship and had never played links golf before last week, held the lead in the early second round at Royal St. George’s – another sign that it should probably just be accepted in these odd times what is not normal will prevail.
His coach, Rick Sessinghaus, was usually here to help. Because of the various travel restrictions, however, he watched from eight time zones away in Los Angeles on Friday with overwhelming eyes, because he did not want to penetrate too far through only 36 holes.
“You can ask me that on Sunday when he’s in the race,” said Sessinghaus when asked whether it was difficult for him to watch from such a great distance. “There’s a lot of golf left and I just enjoy watching him and seeing how he controls his game.”
Sessinghaus undoubtedly watched with pride as his star student – they have been working together since Morikawa, now 24 or 8 years old – made playing a links course easy. He made seven birdies and a bogey to shoot 64 and take the lead.
Morikawa, who won the PGA Championship at Harding Park on his first try in that major last year, is playing for the first time at The Open and never got a taste of links golf until last week at the Scottish Open. No male player has ever won two majors on the first attempt. Morikawa has taken four PGA Tour victories in two years as a professional and ranks fourth worldwide.
“It was impressive,” said J.J. Jakovac, Morikawa’s caddy. “He didn’t do anything but impress me for two years. It’s not surprising.
“It was great going to the Scotsman last week. He learned a lot. He was trying to learn how to hit more half-shots and fly with his body. And the grass is different too.”
There have been a couple of pretty significant changes too. Morikawa swapped three irons in his pocket – his 7, 8, and 9 – for regular blades, and on longer putts he dropped his claw grip and walked conventionally.
“I changed strictly because I couldn’t find the center of the face,” said Morikawa. “I hit those iron strikes last week that I don’t normally do and my swing felt good but it was a huge learning opportunity. Last week I wanted to win but I learned a lot more and” luckily it did for this one Week helped. “
Morikawa only managed one draw for 71st place at the Scottish Open, played at the Renaissance Club known as the American Links. It may not have all the qualities of the venues used for The Open, but it has a solid, fast-running turf that helped Morikawa get a feel for what was going to face him this week. And after losing a playoff at the Memorial Tournament and then finishing fourth at the US Open, Morikawa knew his game was in good shape.
But switching clubs and putting styles can be risky.
“It’s a matter of feeling, but I couldn’t bring the pace on the saw [putting] Handle, “said Morikawa.” I think the saw handle is amazing to me. It will still be in my pocket as I continue putt.
“But from the outside, 25, 20 feet … I couldn’t get that pace you see like a” Brandt Snedeker to put on his putts. You need that out here because the greens are slower than we are used to. I’ve just switched to conventional. I didn’t have to change anything mentally.
“I just did it the way I usually felt it and adapted to the speeds. This is something I would do without my caddy J.J. would not have found out alone. “
It didn’t hurt that Morikawa usually hit 15 greens and only needed 27 putts. One was the tap-in on the 18th after barely missing a 10-footer that would have set him a course record of 63.
“It’s hard to prepare for these conditions,” said Sessinghaus. “We spent some time on his course in Las Vegas before he went to the Scottish Open. We worked to fine-tune his putting. When he’s at his best, he plays with creativity, and that type of golf plays with that strength .
“He likes the challenge of shooting and believes that you have to consider all of the factors before you step into a shot.”