NASSAU, Bahamas – However the weekend at Albany plays out, Collin Morikawa is good – and that’s not just a byproduct of the Hero World Challenge’s silly-season status, although the world-ranking points are plenty serious enough.
Fresh off a second-round 66 that left him tied for second place alongside Tony Finau and Brooks Koepka, the 24-year-old beamed as he made his way to the interview area. Again, it had less to do with the effortless 6-under card than it did with Morikawa simply being in a good place.
“That is by far the best thing that’s happened to me this year, the rest of my life,” he smiled. “It was really special.”
The Friday 66? Sure, that was cool. But that’s not what has Morikawa riding high. He proposed to his longtime girlfriend, Katherine Zhu, on Tuesday evening. He figured that after five years “it was time,” and she said, “yes.”
As for his 10-under total, which was a shot behind Bryson DeChambeau, that was pretty cool, too.
His engagement put the finishing touches what has already been a magical year that has included his second major championship (at The Open), his first World Golf Championship victory, his first start in a Ryder Cup (which he won) and his victory at last month’s DP World Tour Championship to become the first American to win the European Tour’s season-long race.
Oh, and for good measure he could, with a victory this week at Tiger Woods’ own member-member, become the second-fastest to ascend to No. 1 in the world ranking (behind only Woods, of course).
But he learned at the European Tour finale that those kinds of goals are best celebrated and not ruminated.
“I said it all two weeks ago in Dubai, I've got to be ready on Thursday, right?” he said. “I've got to be ready once I tee it up and that's the focus. No matter how much fun I'm having out here, how much relaxing I'm doing, by the time I tee it up, I've got to be ready to play actual golf and play tournament golf.”
And play he has. The best iron player in the game was in his element on Friday at Albany as a fresh wind made things more interesting. He birdied the first, fourth and ninth holes before racing into the lead with three birdies and an eagle starting at No. 11.
“When I put myself in the fairway, I was converting, I was making the birdies when I needed to,” he said. “Still felt like the driver's a little off, but that's just something, you get a little timing a little bit better tomorrow and the next day and we'll be just fine.”
So far this fall, he’s won in Dubai, finished runner-up at the CJ Cup and was among the next generation of American stars who ran the European team out of Wisconsin at the Ryder Cup. Although everyone is looking forward to a break after a long year, Morikawa admitted he wouldn’t mind just playing through the holidays to keep his hot hand going.
His victory at the 2020 PGA Championship was a statement on both his potential and his personality, but ’21 has brought an entirely different level of consistency. Along with his two victories there were eight top-10 finishes and just four missed cuts in 23 starts. His style of play won’t draw attention the way DeChambeau or Brooks Koepka might, but it’s proven to be every bit as effective.
Those contrasting styles will be on full display on Saturday when Morikawa heads out with DeChambeau in the day’s final two-ball.
“There hasn't been one style of golf that has won every tournament out here, right?” Morikawa said. “Bryson's changing the game and he's doing what he thinks is going to help and I'm doing what I think is going to help. I think when it comes down to it who's going to put the ball in the hole with the least amount of strokes.”
Morikawa is clearly resisting the urge to “mail in” what’s left of 2021, although it would be understandable given what he’s already accomplished. But that wouldn’t be his style, and there are still goals to be earned and weddings to be planned.