What Tiger Woods taught Collin Morikawa about elite iron play
Collin Morikawa is 24 years old, the world’s newest two-time major champion and the undisputed best irons player on the planet.
But he still respects his elders.
Long before Morikawa took the game of professional iron sharpshooting by storm, there was another golfer by the name of Tiger Woods who dominated the world of Strokes Gained: Approach, turning greens to dartboards and mastering the dark art of distance control.
Since the PGA Tour started keeping track of Strokes Gained stats, Woods owns the three best seasons in the Approach category:
- 2.07 SG: Approach (Tiger Woods, 2006)
- 1.65 SG: Approach (Tiger Woods, 2007)
- 1.53 SG: Approach (Tiger Woods, 2013)
If the season ended today, Morikawa would be fourth on that list; he’s at 1.50 in SG: Approach this season.
Morikawa and Woods don’t just share the love of a fine blade, though. They’re both Southern California kids. They share a management company, too, and an agent, Mark Steinberg. They share an unshakeable confidence. And they share the expectation that if they play their best golf, they will win.
The most nervous Morikawa has ever been on a first tee?
“Probably with Tiger Woods,” he told GOLF.com. The two played together in the first two rounds of the 2020 Farmers Insurance Open. “That was so much fun. He obviously went to Stanford, I went to Cal, and I have my ‘Go Bears’ yardage book with me and he kinda looked at me and gave a little laugh about it, obviously making a joke that he’s better than me.”
Woods shot 69-71 in the grouping. Morikawa shot 70-69, edging him by one. But Woods won the week-long war, finishing T9 to Morikawa’s T21. Each gained more than three strokes on the field approaching the greens that week.
“Playing with him on a Thursday-Friday, he’s going to be a little more open to talk, but I was able to meet him a little before so getting to know him a little bit off the course was so much more helpful to play tournament golf with him.”
Some young stars would eschew the approaches (no pun intended) of the athletes who came before, and Morikawa does ignore certain unhelpful trappings of the golf world. (Think: No Open Championship rookie can win at Royal St. George’s!) But he has followed Woods in several important ways, admiring his shot-shaping.
“I love Tiger. I mean, every time I play with him I think he makes me a better iron player. Because he just hits every shot that you need. If the pin’s on the left, he’s hitting a draw. If the pin’s on the right, he’s hitting a fade. I think that’s the coolest thing because I think not a lot of guys out there have that capability to work their shots like that.”
Despite their surgical precision, one interesting thing that Morikawa and Woods have in common is the fact that they rely largely on feel. Woods wasn’t raised on Trackman or Foresight and, unlike many of his competitors, Morikawa checks his numbers on Trackman just once a month.
“The ball flight tells us what we need to know,” his coach Rick Sessinghaus recently told GOLF.com. “Since he was eight years old, we’ve worked on developing the skills he needs to actually play golf.”
Before his second major title, Morikawa played a hole with us for our “Tee-to-Green” series, which you can watch in its entirety below. And while he may be Woods-esque with his irons, Morikawa knows he hasn’t been as consistent on the greens as his childhood hero. (He’s ranked No. 170 in putting on Tour this year) So that’s where he’s focusing his attention.
“I love practicing putting now, because obviously that’s been a huge weakness for me,” he said.
That’s classic Morikawa for two reasons. One, because he’s saying exactly the right thing; you can imagine an alternate-reality Morikawa posting on LinkedIn about studying his business shortcomings and attacking them head-on. Two, because he actually means it. We just saw a magnificent putting performance from Morikawa at the Open Championship. We saw him putt well when he won last year’s PGA. He has shown flashes of brilliance on the greens, and he wants those to come more often.
“I don’t think it’s natural; as a junior I definitely didn’t practice putting that much,” he said. “That’s why it’s not one of my strengths yet. But I do look forward to that day when it might be a strength and might be something that I rely on all the time.”
For more from Morikawa, from how he likes his steak cooked to the story behind his dog headcover to his Yeezy collection, check out the entire video below: