KAPALUA, Hawaii — After his ‘frustrating’ 2021-22 season, Colin Morikawa is serious about improving.
It was easy to see the areas that needed work. The numbers told a clear, albeit grim, story. He finished 152nd on strokes gained around the green, suggesting his chipping needed work. He gained a stroke in his putting where he finished 131st, suggesting that his putting also needs practice. It wasn’t an unusual year either. Morikawa’s short game has held him back ever since he arrived on tour. But he was so good from tee to green that we didn’t realize it.
“It’s not that I’ve been lazy,” Morikawa said after opening with an impressive 9-under 64 round at Kapalua on Thursday. “He’s very good. Don’t get me wrong,” Morikawa said. “As if he know golf. But this fall, Morikawa decided it was time to bring in an expert.
How to choose a golf coach? Morikawa has been practicing swings with his coach, Rick Sessinghouse, since he was eight years old. Full swing was still fully functional, to say the least. His iron play ranked third on the Tour last season. Instead, he was looking for a coach with very specific skills. He started asking around.
“At the TaylorMade photo shoot, I asked Tommy. [Fleetwood]was asking Rory [McIlroy]All these guys have different putting coaches. I talked a lot with Max Houma. It’s like sneaking in questions about what they think of the coach. ”
The name Stephen Sweeney kept popping up. The Irish coach has an impressive client list on the PGA Tour and his LIV, including Shane Lowry, Sebastian Muñoz, Joaquin Niemann, Carlos Ortiz, Mito Pereira and Aaron Wise. It was a recommendation from Wise that piqued Morikawa’s interest. Wise’s change last season made him an above-average putter last season after having been ranked outside the top 170 the past two years. He reached out to Sweeney before the World Wide Technologies Championship in Mayakoba. They met on Sunday prior to the tournament and putt until dark. The two got along well.
“Some players are very technical. Some are very free-flowing. ”
Morikawa called on his inner Michael Scott (“Can you explain this to me when I was five?”) to come in with a clean slate and an open mind.
“I want to pretend I know nothing, teach them the basics, and start from there,” he said. “So he’s been able to blend both very well, which is great. Every question I have for him, he’s got the answer.”
Morikawa tackled chipping with Parker McLachlin, aka “Short Game Chef,” last week. Parker McLachlin is a former tour professional who lives in Hawaii and is Hawaii’s leading short game player.
“I hit the irons well because my wrists are bent,” Morikawa said. “But the way I get through impact makes chipping very difficult. It’s nice to have someone who knows a lot about the short game and bounces ideas around.”
Also, McLachlin won’t be on tour, but Morikawa expects to rely on him in the future.
“I never had a chipping coach. Let’s get it and see how it goes.”
Morikawa compared his offseason to that of the Chicago Cubs and agreed with one reporter’s assessment that he filled in the team’s gaps. Sessinghaus and Sweeney, with some help from McLachlin? So far so good.
“I only have answers,” he said. “Before I putt, it was kind of guesswork. I was putting so well today that I might have thought I was doing something, but it was really something else.”
It all worked on Thursday at the Plantation Course in Kapalua, with Morikawa hitting six birdies in a row to start on the back nine. His 9-under 64 also scored on the field in the low-scoring Tournament of Champions, tied for first place with JJ Spawn.
Full circle, 2023 is looking up.