AUGUSTA, Ga. — The weight of history packed into every inch of Augusta National can be overwhelming. There isn’t a tee box, a fairway, a bunker, a thatch of pine straw or a putting surface where the greats haven’t walked. Where iconic shots haven’t been made. Where green jackets haven’t been won. Or lost.
Collin Morikawa appreciates the lore. Acknowledges it. And is well aware of the impact it can have on your game.
“You show up for your first time and that’s what happens with a lot of people,” Morikawa said, who will be playing in his third Masters. “They are like, ‘Oh man, this happened here. This happened here.’”
Yet the 25-year-old, two-time major champion doesn’t get hung up on it. Walking onto the 18th green at the end of a practice round Monday, caddie J.J. Jakovac asked Morikawa if he wanted to recreate Mark O’Meara’s dramatic birdie that captured the 1998 Masters.
To which Morikawa had just one question.
“What putt? I had no clue which putt (O’Meara) had to win the Masters,” Morikawa said with a laugh. “So he drops the ball, and he’s like, ‘Oh, I thought you would have known.’ I was like, ‘No, I have zero clue.’”
It’s not disrespect. It’s more of a choice. He loves the game. He’s simply intent on not letting it consume him. That’s just not how he’s wired.
“If I want to have a long career .. if golf is 24/7 and I go study everything and watch everything and remember everything, that’s just not how my head works,” he said.
There are moments cemented in his memory, particularly watching Tiger Woods’ emotional victory in 2019. Morikawa joined his Cal teammates at an off-campus house a few of them shared, stuffed as many couches as they could together then sat transfixed as Woods captured his fifth title.
Three years later, Morikawa’s vantage point will be far different. So will the stakes. He arrived in Georgia this week not as a college kid watching the Masters on a massive TV from parts unknown but as the third-ranked player in the world, one determined to tackle one of the most iconic courses in the world on his terms, mostly because trying to do it the other way didn’t work.
Morikawa kept being told he needed to hit a draw consistently if he wanted to contend. So he spent his first two Masters trying to work the ball right to left even though his preferred shot is a cut that starts left and drifts back to the right. He finished tied for 44th during the patron-free and fall-swept 2020 Masters and while he improved to 18th last spring, he was never a factor.
He’d seen enough. He figures the five draws he tried to hit off the tee on the front nine in 2020 amounted to more than he would normally hit during an entire year. It’s not that he can’t hit one. He’d just prefer not to, mostly because of what happens when the ball doesn’t go where he wants. If he’s hitting a cut and it misses, he still has a pretty good idea of where he’ll end up. Not so much when his swing goes one way and the ball goes another.
Augusta is hard enough as it is without overthinking things, which is exactly what Morikawa felt he was doing repeatedly during his first two trips to the Masters.
“I was just making it so much tougher because I was trying to hit these shots that, you know, aren’t my go-to shots,” he said.
Things tend to work out when Morikawa trusts his instincts, like the cut 3-wood at Harding Park during the final round of the 2020 PGA that set up the clinching eagle and turned him into a major champion at 23. His near flawless triumph in the British Open at Royal St. George’s last summer made him the first player since Bobby Jones to need eight starts or less to claim multiple majors.
All that success has raised his profile, his world ranking and his own expectations. He arrived at Augusta rested following a tie for ninth at the Match Play last month. He feels his game is close to where it needs to be. When he steps onto the tee on Thursday morning, his mind won’t drift to trying to become the first player since Jordan Spieth in 2015 to win consecutive majors or the chance to etch himself into the fabric of history at a place that embraces it like no other.
It’ll just be him. The ball. And a mission that remains the same since he first picked up a club.
“Like there are so many guys that think about so much,” he said. “And yeah, it works one week, works this other week. But, like, just get in the ball in the hole. Figure out how to get it into the hole.”