150th Open Championship: Collin Morikawa on title defense at St Andrews

Scoreboard at Royal St George's after Collin Morikawa won The Open
Collin Morikawa was the first debutant to win the Open since Ben Curtis in 2003, also at Royal St George’s

Open champion Collin Morikawa is quick to concede that he knows little about the Old Course, despite it being one of the most famous on the planet.

The links course, which starts and ends in the Scottish coastal town of St Andrews and first hosted golf in the 15th Century, will stage the landmark 150th Open Championship in July.

And the 25-year-old American, who so magnificently won the Claret Jug last year at Royal St George’s, on his debut in golf’s oldest major, will be seeing it in the flesh for the first time when he defends his title.

He’s seen it on television so knows “one or two holes” but vast swathes of the sinewy plot of land remain a mystery.

“I don’t know how I’m going to play the Old Course,” Morikawa told BBC Sport in the second of a series of BBC Radio 5 Live podcasts to celebrate the 150th Open Championship.

The podcasts will focus on a different player or theme each week, leading right up to The Open, which takes place from 14-17 July.

Last week’s first edition featured 2014 Open champion Rory McIlroy – both are available now and are exclusive to BBC Sounds.

In this episode, the Californian, who has won two majors, speaks candidly about his emergence as a dominant force in the game, how finishing joint 71st at last year’s Scottish Open was pivotal to his success a week later in Kent and his approach to defending his title at St Andrews.

“It is the home of golf, the history is there, and I can tell you a couple of holes but I don’t know the golf course,” he conceded after being asked what he knew about the Old Course and the town on the Fife coast.

“Hopefully the wind is up. That’s one thing I’ve heard, the weather needs to be there. But I’m going to embrace it, if you embrace it the more you enjoy the week. Sometimes that can propel you to play well and hopefully it does.

“I show up at golf courses, learn them, love them, figure it out. I’m sure it’s going to be the same but all I need to worry about is how do I fit my game to the course to try and win the tournament.”

Morikawa made history in Sandwich last July, becoming the first player to win two different majors at the first attempt – following his victory in the 2020 US PGA Championship.

And his win seemed even more remarkable given he had finished 15 shots behind winner Min Woo Lee at the Scottish Open the week before – his first taste of links golf.

But Morikawa said that week gave him a great deal of information to take into The Open.

“I finished nearly dead last but I learned something,” he said. “I felt like it was a bad result but it’s the things behind the scenes that go into those weeks of playing well.

“There have got to be a lot of mini steps and processes to get to those big time results. The results are what prove you’re doing something right and sometimes with golf you never know how long you’re going to have to wait to actually see a full result but a result doesn’t have to mean a win.

“A win really defines those results and pushes forward new goals but sometimes its something small, like even if you’ve finished 20th or 30th for the week, maybe you’ve improved on something.”

Rick Sessinghaus, who has coached Morikawa since the age of eight, said the Scottish Open was key to his victory at Sandwich.

“Week in week out 95% of prep is the same,” he said. “Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday look very similar in terms of how much time he’s out on the course, how much time he’s working on his swing.

“What he learned quite quickly at the Scottish Open was turf conditions and how his irons were coming into the ground and making adjustments.

“[He also learned] the speed of the greens, so now we have that year under our belts he’s going to prep ahead of time but not too much because he still wants to win whatever week he’s in.”

Sessinghaus played down comparisons with Tiger Woods, who along with Rory McIlroy and Jack Nicklaus are the only players to win four majors by the age of 25, saying “his consistency levels need to improve to put him in the same discussion as Tiger”.

However, he added: “His game transfers to any course we put him on. I’m excited about the future but he would reign us in.”

Morikawa though is keen to keep the title of ‘champion golfer of the year’.

“It’s the best thing in the world,” he said. “What a great title to have. I was jealous of Shane Lowry for having that for two years.”

Ireland’s Lowry won the 2019 Open at Royal Portrush and there was no championship in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic

“Hopefully we can make it two years somehow and be the defending champion again,” Morikawa concluded.

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