History is cool and all, but Collin Morikawa is entirely focused on the present.
He allowed himself a few hours over the weekend to walk around this town, the birthplace of golf, and then he turned his attention to defending his British Open title.
“You’ve got to embrace the history, you have to embrace everything that’s happened before us,” said Morikawa, 25, who grew up in La Cañada Flintridge and hasn’t won a major championship or PGA Tour event since claiming the Claret Jug last year at Royal St. George’s. “But I’m here to win a tournament.”
Morikawa missed the cut at the Scottish Open last week, yet Rick Sessinghaus, his swing and mental coach, said that actually could benefit him because it gave him the weekend to further familiarize himself with the Old Course.
“Collin is a sponge for learning golf courses, and he’s proven that on the PGA Tour,” said Sessinghaus, who walked with Morikawa for nine holes Monday. “I think St. Andrews has enough variability that knowing some nuances and sight lines, where this hill is and where this pot bunker is and so forth — he was taking notes today, looking back at some of the tee boxes to get more of a perspective on some of the blind shots — that only enhances his level of commitment to shots and creating a game plan.”
His two second-place finishes this year, including at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera, are of little consolation to him. He was tied for the lead after 36 holes of this year’s U.S. Open, but shot a seven-over-par 77 on Saturday and finished fifth by rebounding with a final-round 66. He also finished fifth at the Masters.
“We only get four majors a year, and we’re already at No. 4,” he said. “I don’t want to look back at this year and kind of not be happy about what I did and how I prepped. So I’m doing everything I can to be ready for this week, and hopefully we can put together four really good rounds.”
Monday started on a predictable down note: In keeping with tradition, he had to return the Claret Jug.
“It sucked, it really did,” he said. “I woke up this morning and looked at it. The replica is beautiful, but it’s not the same. It really isn’t. It will never be.
“But I don’t want to dwell on the past. I think I’ve talked about that early on in my career. I always look forward to what’s next. Maybe hopefully just giving it back kind of frees me up and allows me just to focus on winning this week.”
In this, the 150th Open Championship, there’s already been a lot of talk about whether today’s players, who can hit the ball so far, might overpower the course. Morikawa conceded St. Andrews is playing short, judging by the nine holes he played Monday, four of which he played driver, lob wedge. But getting to the greens is only part of the challenge.
“Pins are definitely going to be tough,” he said. “They’re going to have to, because sometimes when you are 50 yards away, it’s not advantageous to be there and you’re going to have to play back and almost bring the bunkers into play.”
He said he’s particularly perplexed by the 351-yard 12th hole, the shortest par-4 on the Old Course, which features a fairway pocked with five fairly hidden bunkers and an especially shallow green. Even five-time Open champion Tom Watson has said he still doesn’t quite know how to play the hole.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Morikawa said. “I could tell you 15 different ways to play it, and all could be wrong. I kind of want to sit on 12 and watch guys play and see what they do.”
Jack Nicklaus, who won two of his three Claret Jugs here, had no plans to return to St. Andrews after his farewell in 2005. But he has returned this year, as he’ll be named an honorary citizen of the town Tuesday, joining Bobby Jones and Benjamin Franklin as the only Americans to receive that honor.
“The conditions, the weather, where you actually choose to put the pins, whether the golf course gets dry, whether the golf course gets wet, all those things that make St. Andrews a magical place,” said Nicklaus, who won here in 1970 and ’78.
“And to believe the game of golf essentially started here, and it just absolutely is mind-boggling to me that it still stands up to the golfers of today. I tell you if you get a little bit of weather, any time you get it, it will tell you real fast how fast it makes you stand up to it.”
As for the place itself, he said: “I always said St. Andrews looked like an old gray town until the Open came around. All of a sudden it just lit up like a light, and it was beautiful. And St. Andrews always the week of the Open Championship is always beautiful. I imagine actually probably from anybody who makes a pilgrimage here to play this golf course feels that way.”