Last season will go down as another fantastic year for the men’s game with some vintage performances, but for me, one player stood out. Collin Morikawa’s emergence has not been a surprise to those who have seen his rise through the amateur ranks, but over the last 12 months he has proved his 2020 PGA win wasn’t a lockdown anomaly and that he’ll be a permanent fixture at the top end of the game for years to come.
There are many things to be admired about the 24-year-old, but his maturity at such a young age is perhaps the most impressive. Tiger Woods described him as an ‘old soul’ at the Hero World Challenge and I think that sums him up perfectly. His calmness of mind and ability to handle the success that has come his way are pretty rare. How often do we see a young athlete burst on to the scene but then take some time to adjust to fame and a new way of life? He seems so humble in his approach and reminds me of Roger Federer with his zen-like demeanour.
Another thing working in his favour is his hunger to seek out the expertise of others. He knows he’s not the finished article and golf will always throw up new challenges. An example of this was before the WGC at The Concession when he picked the brains of Ian Baker-Finch, a member at the club, before going on to win by three shots. He also sought out Mark O’Meara to help him with his putting, which led to him adopting the ‘saw’ grip and a massive improvement in the one area of the game that was letting him down.
I think another reason why his emergence is so refreshing is that his game is not built on the power hitting that has become so prevalent. He ranked 112th on the PGA Tour for driving distance last season, but his imperious iron play meant that wasn’t an issue. According to the stats, his dispersion with a 6-iron is equal to that of the average PGA Tour pro’s 9-iron. That is a phenomenal weapon and has been good enough to get him to the verge of World No.1.
This also goes back to that maturity I talked about. He came out of college and knew his game was good enough. We’ve seen so many players come unstuck chasing distance, most recently Rory McIlroy, but he knows if he plays to his strengths he will get the job done. He’s straight enough with his driver to put him in the right place and he doesn’t need to follow the current big-hitting blueprint. By the way, his game sets up perfectly to succeed at Augusta National, which is always talked about as a second-shot course, so don’t be surprised if he slips on his first Green Jacket in April.
Before that, though, the next big test will come if and when he reaches the summit of the world rankings. We saw the first possible chink in his armour in the Bahamas, when he had the chance to get there but fell away. He would have been the second quickest player to reach the top after Tiger if he’d held on to his lead, but an uncharacteristic implosion on the front nine blew his chances.
I believe it was just a blip and I expect him to reach the top sooner rather than later. How he then copes will be interesting to witness. We’ve seen with other players that this milestone can weigh heavy. You just have to look at Jason Day or Justin Rose to know that it’s one thing to get there but a very different thing to stay on top.
In all this it’s easy to overlook another 24-year-old who had a stellar 2021. Viktor Hovland won in Mexico and capitalised on Morikawa’s slip in the Bahamas to rise into the world’s top ten himself. He shares a lot of the traits of the American in terms of calmness and maturity, and I see these two tussling at the top for years to come and at many future Ryder Cups. With so much strength elsewhere in the game, the Majors have the potential to be as thrilling as ever this year, but I’m expecting to see these two young guns battle it out down the stretch for at least one of them. If it happens, it will be fascinating to watch.
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Sarah has been working as a Sky Sports golf presenter for nearly nine years, and has also spoken on and been an ambassador for the role of women in golf, both on course and within the wider industry.
As a Golf Monthly columnist, she plans to cover a wide range of topics across the professional game, as well as issues at grassroots level.
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