Tour Confidential: Collin Morikawa’s poise, biggest Open Championship surprises
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we discuss Collin Morikawa’s victory at the Open Championship, Royal St. George’s, Bryson DeChambeau and more.
1. Collin Morikawa, at just 24 years old, won the 2021 Open Championship to claim his second major title in eight career major starts. Morikawa outplayed Louis Oosthuizen and then held off Jordan Spieth to lift the Claret Jug. What most sticks out about Morikawa’s victory?
Jessica Marksbury, multimedia editor (@jess_marksbury): His poise. He just didn’t miss a shot. Stayed even-keel. So impressive. I was among those who thought Louis’ extensive final-round-of-a-major experience would bring home the trophy today, but it was Morikawa’s talent and composure that ultimately prevailed.
Sean Zak, senior editor (@sean_zak): That putter never wavered. I think we’ll come to learn a lot about his abilities the more years go by, but his bugaboo to this point was a balky putter. But you wouldn’t have known it watching Sunday. Or the rest of this week for that matter. He’s fully capable of playing that clinical, maddeningly boring golf that peak Tiger did so often. Simply better than you, do something about it.
Zephyr Melton, assistant editor (@zephyrmelton): He never made a mistake. Each time he hit a wayward shot, he immediately got back into position, finishing without a bogey for the last 31 holes. Just an impressive display from a player in total control of his game.
Alan Bastable, executive editor (@alan_bastable): His bludgeoning the course to death with one beautifully controlled iron after another iron is the obvious answer, but I also was struck by Morikawa’s Obama-like cool in victory — or, more to the point, after victory. What 24-year-old dedicates the first 20 seconds of his victory speech to the low amateur — complete with a pep talk?! That was such a cool moment. He was like Federer up there after his eighth Wimbledon win, not his first.
Josh Sens, senior writer (@joshsens): There’s supposed to be a steep learning curve in championship links golf. Talk about a quick study. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he didn’t make any mistakes. But he didn’t compound any of his mistakes. Great recoveries. No three-putts. The kind of patience of a guy twice his age with the un-scarred nerves of the youngster whom he is.
James Colgan, assistant editor (@jamescolgan26): How boring it was. Not in a bad way. Morikawa just had it in a vice grip from the second he took the lead. Speaking as a 24-year-old, it’s impressive someone my age could do anything that well.
Dylan Dethier, Senior Writer (@dylan_dethier): When he has a lead, this guy can just strangle the field because he can play “conservative” golf so well. It helped me understand Tiger Woods’ dominance better, strangely.
2. Morikawa entered this week ranked 172nd in Strokes Gained: Putting, yet was great on the greens all week and didn’t three-putt once. We know he’s a brilliant ball-striker and that his putting has been his weakness, so was this week the new norm or an outlier? What kind of Morikawa should we expect to see in future majors?
Marksbury: This week seemed like an outlier in several ways — the hot, sunny weather, lack of wind, slow greens. Maybe that all contributed. But even we recreational players have days or even multiple rounds where putting just seems natural. Could have been one of those weeks for Morikawa, too.
Zak: Definitely the outlier, but Tour players play for outlier weeks. Weeks where it all clicks. They try to make sure their tee-to-green game is airtight so that the flatstick can get hot and carry them. That’s kind of how winning is most often done on that level.
Melton: One week does not make for a trend. It was definitely a great week with the flatstick, but I still think it will be his weakness heading forward.
Bastable: The new norm? Looked like the old norm to me. Nothing we’ve seen from Morikawa since he burst on to the pro scene two years ago suggested he wasn’t capable of this kind of week. Guess the next big question to address is can he win a U.S. Open and green jacket wielding two putting strokes?
Sens: Golf is fickle. Putting might be the most fickle part of it of all. We’ll see much more of this from Morikawa. In every major? No. But often.
Colgan: He’s either set to become the best two-grip putter of our generation, or he’s in the process of becoming the guy he eventually wants to be. My bet is on the latter.
Dethier: Slow greens change things, and these were slow greens. Also, Morikawa’s caddie suggested a putter grip tweak at the beginning of the week — standard, rather than “saw grip,” on longer putts. Good call!
3. Bryson DeChambeau created a lot of tournament chatter when he criticized his driver after his first-round performance (he later apologized) and shot 65 on Sunday for the lowest major round of his career. Between this and a feud with Brooks Koepka, among other things, how much do you suspect off-course distractions or noise impact DeChambeau’s play?
Zak: Bryson definitely concerns himself with the noise, and you can’t blame him. There’s a lot of it. And certainly some of it is self-created. I think he might be learning a bit, too, that his pursuit of perfection through distance is just running into some barriers. Some of that is architecture-based. Some of it is luck. Some of it is inexplicable. Does he push through? Probably. Could he get wrapped up in the wrong thing, perhaps? Totally! It’s tricky.
Marksbury: It’s hard to imagine it not affecting him at this point. I like Bryson, and I think it’s clear that it’s important to him to be liked. I’m not a fan of all the negativity involved in this feud with Brooks, manufactured or not. It might be in Bryson’s best interest to take an extended break from everything for a much-needed reset. But, with the Olympics and FedEx Cup and Ryder Cup looming, it doesn’t look like that will happen for a while yet.
Melton: I’m sure it had some sort of effect on his play this week, but part of being a great athlete is blocking out the noise. As Jess said above, maybe it’s time for Bryson to step back and reset. Everyone needs a break once in a while.
Bastable: If you take Bryson at his word, the Brooks stuff doesn’t bother him at tournaments — he says he loves the banter from the galleries. Radspeedgate this week surely was a bigger distraction, and I think that came across in his apology. I genuinely don’t believe DeChambeau was trying to railroad Cobra. I think he just got caught up in his own frustrations, as he’s wont to do, and lost the plot. Presumably he had some bridge-mending to tend to with the Cobra folks, and it likely rattled him for a day or two.
Sens: It couldn’t have helped him. But that wasn’t all he had working against him this week. Bryson had also missed the cut in two of four previous Open appearances. And Royal St. George’s was not exactly suited to a bomb-and-gouge approach. Epic length was not a clear advantage. As much as anything, Bryson might just need more time to crack the links golf code.
Colgan: The distractions do affect his game, no doubt. But I’m also of the opinion that the Open will be the hardest of the four majors for Bryson to contend at. His game isn’t quite built for this style of play, and his ability might not be so overpowering as to supersede those limitations.
Dethier: One line stuck with me from DeChambeau this week: “I continue to keep making mistakes, unfortunately.” I think this has all had a huge effect on his play and mindset, and I think he must be exhausted, ready for a break and re-evaluating a whole bunch of things in his personal and professional life. That’s hard work, too.
4. Brooks Koepka was blunt when accessing Royal St. George’s early in the week, saying “quite a few blind tee shots, kind of hitting to nothing. Fairways are quite undulating. I don’t know, it’s not my favorite of the rotation, put it that way.” Your thoughts on Royal St. George’s as a major venue?
Zak: It’s fine by me. Keyword: fine. Average links golf weather would have made for worse scoring conditions. I really enjoyed the long par-3s. Great variance on those. Offset by the short 16th. But is it England’s finest? No. And that’s OK. Remember, we just visited Torrey Pines. 😉
Marksbury: I agree, Sean. It was fine. The fact that it didn’t feel particularly linksy or Open Championship-y with this year’s perfect weather maybe worked against it. But it’s not my favorite of the rotation, either.
Melton: Thirded. I’m fairly indifferent about Royal St. George’s. I’m just glad it identified a truly great champion.
Bastable: Not linksy, Jess?! The rumpled fairways, sandy turf and salty ocean breezes would like a word! I will say, I would have liked to see the greens browner and firmer. Perhaps, with many of the holes cut on knobs and other tricky spots, that wasn’t feasible, but it was a bummer seeing guys spin back balls instead of being forced to let them release to the hole. I think what hurts RSG is that it lacks the visual drama of, say, Portrush or Turnberry, or the hard-against-the-town charm of St. Andrews. But it’s still a fine test.
Sens: It’s way more than fine. It’s a great test. The crowned fairways can be maddening for some, especially when you can’t see shots land. But how many grotesquely unfair bounces did you see? Was there a wildly unlikely winner as a result? Brooks gives reliably good press conferences, but he’s not immune to contradictions. The irony of him dissing St. George’s for blind shots and then praising the Old Course in the same breath is that the Old Course has plenty of blind shots for the pros, among many other charms. More unruly weather would have made things more fun this week. But that was obviously no fault of the course.
Colgan: Time and time again, we’ve learned that the most important factor in the toothiness of a major setup is the weather. Royal St. George’s is surely a phenomenal golf course and worthy Open test. It wasn’t quite that this week, but that can be owed almost entirely to the sunshine.
Dethier: Oh, I loved the entire thing, my favorite part being the family watching from a little shed beside the 4th hole. (The Open doesn’t officially start until you see a local in his or her backyard, drinking a cup of coffee). But I would like disaster lurking slightly closer, and we didn’t see much disaster at all. Still, better than “fine.”
5. What was the biggest surprise of the week?
Zak: That complaining about the travel restrictions ceased so quickly. I thought that storyline would dominate early in the week and even as 32,000 fans showed up. But that’s the power of the Open. All pros appreciate these lovely European fans. They understand the game better, and it doesn’t take long to notice.
Marksbury: Morikawa’s win is a huge surprise for me! I didn’t “pick” him specifically because I thought, well, he has no Open experience. It’s a different game overseas. Kind of like going to Augusta for the first time. But boy, did he prove me wrong.
Melton: The weather! Has there ever been an Open Championship with such docile conditions? I’ve seen more blustery conditions during the Florida swing.
Bastable: We’ve learned not to expect things out of Phil Mickelson when we’re expecting things out of Phil Mickelson, but I still thought he’d find a way into the conversation in Sandwich. Instead, he packed his bags after an unseemly 12-over performance. Didn’t see that coming.
Colgan: Other than Guido Migliozzi’s MC? Probably the third consecutive major championship top-three finish for Louis Oosthuizen. Three legs of a grand slam would be enough to send the golf world into a tizzy. Three legs of a top-three slam? Slightly less impressive, and significantly less regarded.
Dethier: Rory McIlroy’s continued malaise. Maybe it didn’t surprise you non-believers, but I truly thought this was a week well-suited for a free-wheeling McIlroy win. He’s just not sharp enough right now to keep up with the game’s most precise players, and I hope he gets closer soon.
6. Morikawa replaced Shane Lowry as Champion Golfer of the Year, an honor Lowry held for two years since last year’s Open was canceled. What did you miss most about the Open?
Zak: Dirt explosions popping up off the turf-like firecrackers. You don’t see that in America. But on the British Isles, approaches from the firm fairways have little dirt explosions. I love that.
Marksbury: The thing I’m still missing: crazy wind! A bit of rain! And some linksy carnage.
Melton: The creativity that links golf promotes. There’s nothing better than courses that accommodate all types of shots
Bastable: Ending my workday at 6 p.m. ET.
Sens: Koepka’s Saturday stumble was a surprise. He was right in the hunt. It’s not like him to falter when he smells blood in a major.
Colgan: I missed the fans, who unanimously appear to be regarded as the best in the sport. As a night owl, I will decidedly not miss the early morning wakeups.