‘I’m pretty fresh over here:’ Morikawa, Scheffler contend with a week of links experience
Collin Morikawa had 184 yards into the par-4 5th at Royal St. George’s, two mounds blocked all but about 50 yards in front of him, and the wind was against him. He trusted his line, took a little more club and hit his approach to 3 feet on Friday during the second round of the Open Championship. A links veteran, right?
Far from it.
Last week, Morikawa and Scottie Scheffler, another Open contender, played the Scottish Open. They’ve each played two rounds this week. And that’s about it when it comes to true overseas links-style golf.
“Yeah, last week was actually my first time to the United Kingdom, so I’m pretty fresh over here,” Scheffler said Friday. “I’ve enjoyed it so far. The weather has been good. I really like links golf, and it’s been fun coming out here, playing, seeing, creating shots, really just having fun.”
Morikawa is second after 36 holes. On Friday, he shot a six-under 64 and was flirting with The Open (and major) record of 62. Two shots back of him, and two spots down the leaderboard, is Scheffler. During the second round, he bogeyed the 2nd hole, then played five under from there on his way to a 66.
What gives? Opens are dry fairways, and deep rough, and mounds and hills, and wind every which way. It often takes veterans — actual veterans — years to negotiate a style of play that is infrequent in professional golf. Not coincidentally then, it was a very veteran move from Morikawa and Scheffler that set the foundation for this week: playing the Scottish last week, their first visit to the U.K. as professionals.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t be here through these two rounds if I hadn’t played last week at Scottish,” the 24-year-old Morikawa said. “I’ve played in firm conditions. I can think of places I’ve played in tighter, drier conditions, but just having fescue fairways and the ball sitting a little different was huge to see last week. … Last week I wanted to win, but I came out of it learning a lot more, and thankfully it helped for this week.”
From there for Morikawa, it was a combination of something new and something old. As our Jonathan Wall described in fantastic detail here, Morikawa switched out his 9- through 7-irons to help him with the firmer conditions in the U.K. Then it was just a matter of leaning on a tried and true thought.
“Yeah, I saw a quote, I think Jordan [Spieth] touched on this yesterday, that he tries to show up to courses that he’s never been to and find something that he loves,” Morikawa said. “To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever showed up to a golf course, at least as a professional, and hated the golf course.
“I always try and fit my game into how do I play my best golf, and I feel like I can win if I stick to what I’ve been doing, stick to my approach shots, stick to those 8-irons, 9-irons, 7-irons, because that’s my bread and butter. That’s what I love to do. When I’m in the middle of the fairway, I feel like I can hit it just as close as some guys hit their wedges, especially when I’m on like the first two days.”
For the 25-year-old Scheffler, he said he “really didn’t change much” as he crossed the pond — “just needed to figure out the bunkers and the grass around the greens,” he said. Still, he quickly fell for the creativity that links golf affords and went with it.
“I feel like I have a lot of options around here, which I like,” Scheffler said last week at the Scottish Open. “I feel like I can always find a shot that I’m comfortable with. I feel like in the States, grain dictates a lot of what you have to do around the green and here, there’s virtually no grain. You can kind of skip it or flop it or do whatever you like.”
Can they win? Their answers were nothing but veteran-like. Morikawa is two strokes behind leader Louis Oosthuizen entering Saturday’s third round, while Scheffler is four back.
“I kind of think that going into every tournament. I’m always looking to try and win golf tournaments, and [it’s] nice to be able to put myself in a position to win this one,” Scheffler said. “We’re only halfway there. I think I’m four shots back going into the weekend, so I got a lot of work to do.”
Said Morikawa: “Yeah, Royal St George’s is beautiful. It’s a great golf course. I think it fits into a lot of shots that I love to hit, so hopefully we can just keep hitting fairways and giving ourselves good numbers to attack some pins.”