Morikawa will play Augusta as he sees it

Collin Morikawa watches his tee shot on the 14th hole during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament on Monday, April 5, 2021, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Collin Morikawa watches his tee shot on the 14th hole during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament on Monday, April 5, 2021, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Credit: Matt Slocum

Credit: Matt Slocum

For all of its proper twists and turns, Augusta National seemed to request that Collin Morikawa perform unnatural acts every day last year.

A natural left-to-right player off the tee, Morikawa found during his first experience here last November that the Masters asks for far more often for a drawn tee shot - take holes No. 2, 5, 9, 10, 13, for instance - than for his fade (like No. 1).

And from there came the wunderkind’s best lesson from a course that doesn’t readily share its secrets. Don’t let the joint push you around.

“Just because certain holes are draw-biased doesn’t mean I have to,” Morikawa said Monday. “Yes, on 10 and 13, you have to kind of hit a draw or a hook pretty much.

“But that’s the thing. Last year, I tried working in a draw and I wasn’t playing my game. I almost tried, like, to tailor my game to how the course fit instead of playing my game and if the hole didn’t fit me, find another way.”

All of which goes to explain two things. That’s how Morikawa, just six months removed from his first major title (PGA championship), played exceedingly average in his first Masters (even-par, tied for 44th place).

Secondly, he took his own advice. Study all the undulations. Listen to the older heads. (Mark O’Meara has been a local putting guru.) Learn to work the ball differently. If there is a reason Morikawa’s chances are better this week than last time, it lies somewhere in there.

“Even though I remember my press conference from last year and me being a (Masters) rookie and me being able to compete out here, I thought I was all right and I thought I could bring my A game and come out here and win,” he said.

Which would be incorrect. Morikawa played his first Masters in the afterglow of his stunning PGA title, when he became the third youngest champion (23 years, six months, three days) after Rory McIlroy and Jack Nicklaus. He won three times in his first 29 pro events.

But at Augusta, he was never a factor. He had as many over-par rounds (two 74s) as sub-pars (2 70s). He played the four par-5s an aggregate 5-under. Champion Dustin Johnson played them 10-under.

The course hasn’t changed much since then. Morikawa’s A game has.

“So I’ve got this new driver shot that I’ve been working on pretty much the last six months, since the last Masters and it helps me on straighter holes where I can’t really cut as much,” he said. “I’ve been working on my sidehill lies, ball above my feet, ball below my feet, figuring out how do I still hit my regular cut shot that I love, but how much to aim it or whether I’ve got to aim straight.

“That’s been the biggest thing and just dialing in those a little bit. Because people say it’s really undulated, but you really know until you step foot out there.”

Though the Masters has a well-earned reputation for ill-treatment of first-time competitors - just one champion has won in his first try: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 - recent younger players have successfully made their cases here. When Jordan Spieth won in 2015, he was younger than Morikawa was when he won his PGA. So was Tiger Woods in 1997, Seve Ballesteros in 1980 and Nicklaus in 1963.

In the last 10 years, five players have had top-10 finishes before their 24th birthday. Not bad on a course notorious for guarding its secrets.

“I’ve played on golf courses where it doesn’t fit a fade and I’ve played all right,” Morikawa said. “So I know if I just get it in my head and stick with what I’m doing, that’s what’s going to give you the best chance to hopefully win by Sunday.”

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