Asked in his post-round interview at the Sentry Tournament of Champions if letting a six shot overnight lead slip was a lowlight of his relatively short career, Collin Morikawa answered;
“I would say so. Can’t really think of anything else. Yeah, it’s hard to look at the positives, it really is.”
For anyone who stayed up into the wee hours on Sunday night, Morikawa’s back nine collapse was as surprising as it was spectacular. Then again, with 2022 short game figures reading 131st on tour in Strokes Gained: Putting, and 152nd in SG: Around the Green, maybe it wasn’t such a shock after all.
But it’s 2023, new year, new me, and for 68 holes in Hawaii, it all seemed so different. Morikawa’s putting stroke was velvet, his feel infallible. Bogey-free on the week playing the 14th hole on Sunday, he could’ve been excused for composing his speech with five holes to play such was his level of control. Then suddenly, golf happened; Morikawa knifing his bunker shot through the green on the short par-4 and making the first of a hat-trick of bogeys, the only man in Hawaii to do so last week.
Having started the hole with a three shot lead over eventual winner, Jon Rahm, suddenly the pair were level. When Morikawa chunked his chip on the par-5 15th, his game truly unravelled, and Rahm was ready to pick up the scraps. Morikawa played holes 12-16 in three-over par. Having at one stage been seven shots in command at Kapalua, he played the 72nd hole with no chance to win. Rahm played holes 12-16 in five-under par, turning the game on its head.
“A little bit of both,” Morikawa answered when asked whether he’d lost the tournament or Rahm had won it.
“I mean 1-under on this course is not a good score. It really isn’t. I was 3-under through whatever, six holes. 3-putted 5 as well. He still shot 63. But I still, you know, I still had it within reach. If I don’t make those bogeys and I make par, we’re right there.”
“You work so hard and you give yourself these opportunities and just bad timing on bad shots and it added up really quickly,” he added. “Don’t know what I’m going to learn from this week, but it just didn’t seem like it was that far off. It really wasn’t. Yeah, it sucks.”
To be fair to Morikawa, it’s hard to know how to reflect on his calamitous near-miss, but writing off a 25-year old two-time Major winner for an undoubted choke would be foolish. On the plus side, the American still managed to shoot 25-under par first time out the gate in 2023, and far bigger prizes lurk on his radar in the weeks to come, with the world number 11 confirming that his schedule will include the Farmers, Torrey, Phoenix and L.A.
Morikawa mightn’t be sure about what he learned last week but in the immediate aftermath of such a defeat, it said plenty about the man that he met the media at all. A cosy six shot win would’ve done wonders for his confidence but I’d wager he’ll learn far more about himself from the mini-crisis of his Kapalua collapse. For my money, expect a more merciless Morikawa the next time he comes face to face with the finish line. That’s scant consolation for his next few days holidaying in Hawaii, but it should be consolation enough for a man with a CV the envy of most already.
“I’m going to take two days off and enjoy Hawaii a little bit more,” he said. “It’s not going to be as great, but it will still be good. But, yeah, my mind’s already thinking about what we need to do. It’s going to hurt, but I’ve got to get over it because we’re still in the very early parts of the season.”
Indeed Collin, it couldn’t be earlier. Of all the times for adversity to arrive, none are better than this. He should enjoy a piña colada or two, and the $1.5m runner-up cheque. No career is complete without a bit of scar tissue, and this relatively shallow cut could yet have a deep and meaningful impact for one of the brightest talents in the world of golf.