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Collin Morikawa’s Goliath-sized game, curious mind give the defending PGA champ staying power

(Editor’s word: This is the first installment in a four-part collection about defending PGA champion Collin Morikawa.)

Collin Morikawa has hardly ever been the largest man in the room.

Mind you, he isn’t the 97-pound weakling on the seaside, however he’s by no means been mistaken for the muscle-bound bully kicking sand on individuals, both.

He suggestions out at 5 ft, 9 inches, about 160 on the scales. He’s heard the jokes of being vertically challenged – immediate the joker saying the rain takes longer to hit his head – however has by no means wept he didn’t high out at 6 ft, 3 inches and 200 kilos.

He’s disregarded the jokes and even loved amusing at his expense, particularly when he stands subsequent to his caddie, J.J. Jakovac.

“It’s always funny that I look like a child next to him; his massive 6-4 frame over my 5-9 frame,” he mentioned.

But since childhood, Morikawa has greater than made do along with his dimension and by no means shied from coping with greater youngsters, teenagers, adults. He definitely didn’t go all Napoleon advanced. Instead, no matter the dimension and scope of the problem, be it on the golf course or in the classroom, Morikawa has put his head down and labored, experimented and moved ahead.

It positive did work out.

Despite not being the longest participant on the lot, he’s at all times performed giant. Goliath giant. So as he defends his title on this week’s PGA Championship on the huge Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, he’ll work out a option to battle the beast of a course and the finest in the world. Just as he has since he adopted his dad and mom to the golf course at age 5 and began standing out on each golf course he visited.

Morikawa put collectively a top-notch junior profession adopted by a monster newbie profession, which included his All-American star flip at Cal. He made his first 22 cuts as a professional, a feat bested solely by Tiger Woods.

He gained the 2019 Barracuda Championship in simply his sixth begin on the PGA Tour as a professional. After dropping in a playoff to Daniel Berger in the 2020 Charles Schwab Challenge, the first event performed after the COVID-19 international pandemic shut down the PGA Tour for 13 weeks, he toppled main champion Justin Thomas in a playoff to win the Workday Charity Open.

Collin Morikawa

Collin Morikawa

Collin Morikawa takes a sip of a Memorial Tournament milkshake, given solely to the winner this week, whereas holding the championship trophy after profitable a three-hole playoff towards Justin Thomas in the closing spherical of the Workday Charity Open. Photo by Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch through USA TODAY NETWORK

Morikawa gained the 2020 PGA Championship in simply his second begin in a serious, his “shot heard ‘round the world” a drive that found the green 294 yards away on the 70th hole. It showed he could hang with the longest players in professional golf with the longest club in the bag.

That was his third victory in 29 starts on the PGA Tour. He added his fourth at the World Golf Championships-Workday Championship at The Concession this year. That’s 4 wins in his first 45 begins on the PGA Tour. And he’s No. 6 in the Official World Golf Rankings.

So that dimension of the canine in the battle factor? Well, Morikawa proves it’s the dimension of the battle in the canine that issues.

“From a very young age, I’ve always had the belief that I could overcome any obstacle and I never thought about quitting. I felt like if I gave myself enough time and effort to give myself a shot, I could do it and go out and beat the best,” Morikawa mentioned. “It takes a lot of luck, support from people around you and I’m fortunate to have that in my corner. I never took anything for granted. Everything I did had a purpose and everything I do has a purpose. I put full effort into everything. I’m trying to learn as much as I can. There’s always an unknown.

“I think I was just born with my competitive fire. I hate losing. I will compete against anybody at anything.”

Rick Sessinghaus discovered that out instantly. He’s one in every of the key members of Morikawa’s staff, which additionally consists of his dad and mom, Blaine and Debbie; caddie J.J. Jakovac; agent Andrew Kipper; and girlfriend Katherine Zhu, who performed collegiate golf at Pepperdine and understands the rigors of enjoying golf at a excessive stage, which Morikawa appreciates.

PGA Championship - Final Round

PGA Championship – Final Round

Collin Morikawa and his coach Rick Sessinghaus with the Wanamaker Trophy after the closing spherical of the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Sessinghaus, a PGA Professional, eagerly agreed to start out educating Morikawa when he was 8, they usually’ve been collectively for 16 years and counting. Despite Sessinghaus’ dimension benefit and superior golf expertise – he was 33 once they met – the two waged battles on the golf course after each lesson, Morikawa by no means giving an inch and by no means sulking if he misplaced.

And whereas Morikawa insists he’s by no means heard anybody say he wasn’t lengthy sufficient to compete towards the finest – probably in a single ear and out the different – Sessinghaus has heard it and was equally dismissive.

“He’s not the longest, but he is Iron Byron,” Sessinghaus mentioned. “He gets the ball closest to the hole more times than anyone else. Collin is creative, a precise player who wins. We have a plan moving forward; he has a trainer, and we will make incremental advances to try to get longer if need be.

“But this is a game to be played; it’s not a long drive contest. There are a lot of variables. Lowest score wins. So you don’t change the essence of the player.”

Despite the age distinction – Morikawa is 24, Sessinghaus 49 – the two meshed immediately for 2 enormous causes. One, their love for the sport. And two, they each have – cue Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction – an enormous mind.

“Everything about Collin seems to be like he’s acquired ‘it,” said two-time U.S. Open champion and ESPN analyst Curtis Strange. “Nobody has this game figured out or any part of it figured out, but he looks like, at such a young age, he has such a mature a golf IQ as anybody that’s come alongside in a very long time.”

PGA Championship

PGA Championship

Collin Morikawa watches after teeing off on the sixteenth gap throughout the closing spherical of the 2020 PGA Championship golf event at TPC Harding Park. (Photo: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)

Off the golf course, too. Morikawa has a Bachelor’s diploma in enterprise administration; Sessinghaus a Bachelor’s Degree in Speech Communications and a Masters and Doctorate in Applied Sports Psychology. They each are curious souls, each crave data, each don’t worry change. And that, to Morikawa, is as vital as what he does with a golf membership in his hand.

“I’m always trying to figure out how to get better,” Morikawa mentioned. “That’s the nature of what we do. I’m going to keep trying new things.”

Especially with regards to the shortest membership.

“In college we would joke sometimes. Let’s say he had a top 5 and I would tongue in cheek say, ‘So, which putter did you use? Or which putter grip did you use?’ Through college he was experimenting,” Sessinghaus mentioned.

It didn’t cease when he turned professional, both.

Ahead of this yr’s Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club north of Los Angeles, Morikawa attached with two-time main champion Mark O’Meara, who employs the noticed grip. Morikawa soaked it in and adjusted grips.

“He doesn’t do anything haphazard,” Sessinghaus mentioned. “The rationale behind the change made sense to me. He was achieving what he wanted to achieve. The putter was moving through the impact area much freer, he was releasing the putter head much better, so it looked like something we wanted to try.

“That week when J.J, saw it, he said it looked great. But the stats didn’t back it up that week. He had a poor putting performance on that Sunday, but he said he felt comfortable over the ball and I said great. He doesn’t change for change’s sake.

“And the next week he won.”

PGA Championship

PGA Championship

Collin Morikawa celebrates along with his caddie J.J. Jakovac after profitable 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park. (Photo: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Back to the dimension factor.

Despite Morikawa’s huge, fast success – he’s gained practically $10 million in prize cash; has sponsor offers with TaylorMade, Adidas, Zurich Insurance, Omega, Grant Thornton, Therabody and US Bank; and is an everyday presence throughout golf tournaments on commercials – he hasn’t gotten an enormous head.

For starters, he’s at all times believed he’d be the place he’s, one in every of the finest gamers in the world. For one other, he’s extraordinarily humble.

“He doesn’t come across as the guy who wants to tell you how good he is,” mentioned Viktor Hovland, one other younger stud who met Morikawa at school tournaments and now goes toe-to-toe towards him on the PGA Tour. “I’m very impressed about what he does inside the ropes. His attitude out here is very relaxed, and he obviously knows he belongs. He’s very professional. To play as good as he has without a long game that is super long, is a testament to how the rest of his game is and his mental strength.

“He’s just really good at so many things.”

Sessinghaus added he’s by no means heard Morikawa brag.

“He is always looking at what is next, and when you look at what is next, you don’t wallow in what has been done,” he mentioned. “He stays humble because there is more to do. If he thinks about what he’s done, that could derail him going forward.

“I’ve told him to embrace successes and reaffirm what you did well. We want to reinforce things. He knows what he did was great but there’s more to do.”

Starting this week on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island. The course may play at 7,876 yards – making it the longest course in main championship historical past.

“It’s a big golf course, I’ll tell you that,” Morikawa mentioned. “Pars are your friend out there. Obviously very wind dependent. If you don’t have any wind it’s playable, but if it’s windy that back nine can pick up.

“It’s going to be a great test because it’s going to test every part of your game.”

Which fits Morikawa simply positive.

“He doesn’t have a weakness in his game,” Tony Finau mentioned. “He doesn’t have a weakness mentally. So when you’re dealing with that type of talent, he’s going to be somebody to beat in major championships.

“This isn’t a guy that’s just going to pop up and disappear for the next five years.”

Paul Casey, who tied for second in the 2020 PGA Championship, knew that lengthy earlier than Morikawa hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy.

“There’s always a bunch of guys that rock up on the scene, and he didn’t necessarily get the most publicity out of the group he was in, but you know, I can consider myself veteran. I’ve been around the block, so I know talent when I see it,” Casey mentioned. “We could just tell. Those of us who knew, knew that he’s the one.

“And we weren’t wrong.”

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