SANDWICH, England – Collin Morikawa, who played in his first Open Championship and has never played link golf before this week, took the early lead in the second round at Royal St. George’s held – another sign that in this unusual time it should probably just be accepted that what will not normally triumph.
His coach, Rick Sessinghaus, will usually be here to help guide him. However, due to the various travel restrictions, he looked blurry from eight times in Los Angeles on Friday morning, and did not want to get too far ahead by just 36 holes.
“You can ask me that on Sunday if he’s in dispute,” Sessinghaus said when asked if he found it difficult to look away from so far. “There’s a lot of golf left, and I like to see him and see control over his game.”
Sessinghaus no doubt proudly saw how his star student – they have been working together since Morikawa, now 24, 8 years old – made a switching course look easy. He made seven birdies and a thug to shoot 64 and take the lead.
Morikawa, who won the PGA Championship at Harding Park last year in his first major attempt, is playing in The Open for the first time and only got a taste of link golf during the Scottish Open last week. No male player has ever won two majors in his first attempt at each. Morikawa has four wins in the PGA Tour in two years as a forward and is fourth in the world.
“It was impressive,” said JJ Jakovac, Morikawa’s caddy. “For two years he did nothing but impress me. This is not surprising.
“It was great to go to the Scot last week. He learned a lot of things. Try to learn how to hit more half shots and fly it with your body. And the grass is different too.”
Some fairly significant changes have also occurred. Morikawa took out three irons in his suitcase, his 7, 8 and 9, from normal blades, and on longer pits he dropped his claw grip and became conventional.
“I changed drastically because I could not find the center of the face,” Morikawa said. “I hit these irons last week which I do not normally do and my swing felt good, but it was a great learning opportunity. Last week I wanted to win, but I learned a lot more from it and luckily it helped for this week. ‘
Morikawa drew for the 71st time at the Scottish Open, played at the Renaissance Club, which is described as an American link. It may not have all the characteristics of the venues used for The Open, but it does have a sturdy, fast-running grass that gives Morikawa a sense of what he’s encountering this week. After Morikawa lost a playoff game and then tied for fourth place in the US Open, Morikawa knew his game was in good shape.
But it can be risky to change club and style.
‘It’s a feeling thing, but it’s more that I could not get the tempo on the saw [putting] grab, “Morikawa said.” I think the saw grip is incredible to me. It’s going to keep being in my suitcase while I keep sitting.
‘But from the outside, 25, 20 feet … I could not get the pace you see as a Brandt Snedeker put on his holes. This is something you need here, because the greens are slower than we are used to playing. I just switched to conventional. I do not need to change anything spiritually.
“I went just the way I normally felt and the speed was similar. It’s something that without my caddy, JJ, would not have noticed alone.”
It did not hurt that Morikawa scored 15 sets in the regulation and only needed 27 set holders. One of those was the tap on the 18th after missing a ten-foot nail scraper that would give him a track record 63.
“It’s hard to prepare for these conditions,” Sessinghaus said. “We spent time on his course in Las Vegas before he left for the Scottish Open. We worked on the pace with his pit. When he’s at his best, he plays with creativity, and this type of golf plays on that strong point.
“He really likes the challenge of creating shots and feels you have to pay attention to all the factors before committing a shot.”