Morikawa not caught in defense of PGA Championship

·3-min read

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — Collin Morikawa doesn't have the routine down yet as the PGA Championship's reigning champ.

Another week like he had in this tournament a year ago might catch him up quick.

From the champions dinner to well-wishers around the course to how he'll approach winning this event again, the 24-year-old holder of the Wanamaker Trophy was busy finding his bearings at The Ocean Course.

The lessons started quickly with players and fans calling Morikawa, “DC.”

“And I was like, ‘I don’t know what that means,' he said. ”Obviously, it means defending champion, now.”

Morikawa won his first major title last August at TPC Harding Park without fans, the first of golf's Grand Slam to be played after the sport's return from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Morikawa memorably sealed the tournament by driving the green on the 70th hole — the 16th — and making the 8-foot putt to open a two-shot lead he carried to the end.

So after people congratulate him about last year, Morikawa gets asked how he plans to handle The Ocean Course in his try for a second straight PGA Championship — something last accomplished by Brooks Koepka in 2018 and 2019.

Morikawa's unsure.

“I haven’t defended any of my college events, I’ve never defended any of my PGA Tour wins,” he said. “I don’t really know.”

Morikawa's last time as a “DC," he said, came in 2017 at the Sunnehanna Amateur, where he finished second a year after winning the event in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

Morikawa sounds confident about his chances to outdo that finish this time. He's putting in the same work he would each week wherever he plays and believes he's been successful enough — four PGA Tour victories since 2019 — to prove it works.

“I’m sticking to what I know works and I’m going to do that Monday through Wednesday and hopefully be ready by Thursday and kind of go from there,” he said.

Morikawa got his first look at the Pete Dye seaside masterpiece last month, playing it the Monday after the Masters before he competed at the RBC Heritage a couple of hours south of here on Hilton Head Island.

It was at that event where Morikawa's main weakness on the course shown through. He was in second place and paired with leader Stewart Cink in the final round, seemingly in prime position to chase the 47-year-old Cink.

And Morikawa quickly cut into Cink's five-shot lead with a first-hole birdie, but faded with three-putt bogeys on the second and fourth holes to finish seventh.

Morikawa sits at a confounding 186th in putting on the PGA Tour, a major issue for the world's sixth-ranked golfer.

“I wouldn’t say it’s held me back, but it hasn’t helped me,” he acknowledged Wednesday.

Morikawa chooses to focus on what can happen when he's putting well. He changed grips last winter, going from a traditional hold to more of a “saw grip” that helped him to victory at the WCG-Workday at The Concession last February.

Morikawa led the field in strokes gained putting on the way to his PGA Championship title in 2020.

“You know, I've shown that when I do putt well, I'm able to play really well,” he said. “I'm able to put myself in contention. It’s just finding consistencies.”

Like knowing your obligations as defending champion. Morikawa didn't know when he won he'd need to host a champion's dinner, including deciding the menu and picking up the tab.

Did Morikawa know it was a standing tradition of the PGA Championship?

“No,” he said. “But I’m glad it is. It was so cool to talk to a bunch of champions.”

Morikawa expects he'll be better prepared if he can successfully defend his title this week.

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