KAPALUA, Hawaii — Collin Morikawa can handle the truth.
The two-time major winner is coming off his first winless season and sought help from his longtime coach Rick Sessinghaus as well as from two specialists: putting coach Stephen Sweeney and former PGA Tour pro turned short-game guru Parker McLachlin.
“I just have answers,” Morikawa said. “Before when I was putting it was like it was guess work.”
On Thursday, Morikawa’s full arsenal was on display as he poured in a personal best six birdies in a row, while shooting a bogey-free 9-under 64 at Kapalua Resort’s Plantation Course to share the first-round lead with Jon Rahm and J.J. Spaun at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
“It was just to go out and be patient and give yourself opportunities,” Morikawa said. “Beginning of the week the prep felt great. Didn’t really see many putts go in. It was nice to see one go in on 4 from like 30 feet. That just kind of got the round propelled from there.”
Morikawa’s ballstriking has been second to none almost from the moment he turned pro, but last year his Strokes Gained: Approach the Green slipped from first to third.
“Just making things a little more simple,” he said of his work with his swing coach. “For me, it’s always been kind of just feels, where do my hands feel in this right position, try to get it there. You take two weeks off and feels versus reals are a little off.”
It’s been the short stick and short game that kept Morikawa from the winner’s circle last year, and he addressed both by adding coaching help. Morikawa started working with Sweeney in November at the Tour stop in Mexico. Speed control was a focal of his putting work.
“I think today I did a pretty good part on that, just kind of dripping them in, having really good speed,” he said.
He worked last week with McLachlin on the short game in Hawaii.
“Just kind of figuring new things out. The reason why I hit my irons so good is because of that bowed wrist and how I come through impact just makes chipping really tough,” he explained. “It’s good to have someone that knows a lot about short game and you just kind of bounce ideas off.”
How involved McLachlin will be in Morikawa’s future success is still to be determined.
“He’s not someone that’s going to travel on the road, but someone that I can kind of talk to and once again bounce ideas off of. I never had a chipping coach and we’re not here to get too technical it’s just to kind of have feels and, once again, have someone else bounce ideas off of, someone that I trust, see how it goes. So it’s been working, but it’s, yeah, it’s someone that, you know, I throw ideas at and have an answer.”
Rahm eats up Kapalua again
A year ago, Jon Rahm shot 33 under at the Plantation Course and it wasn’t good enough. After a day when the wind laid down and scoring was low again — an opening-round record-low 68.231 — Rahm was asked if he think the winning score will approach that same mark.
“If we have as little wind as we had today, yes, I would say so,” he said. “Maybe not that much, but we should approach 30-under.”
Rahm did his part in Round One, reeling off eight birdies, an eagle and a lone bogey to tie for the lead at 9-under 64.
“I made a bunch of putts from the 15 to 20 feet range, and those are they type that allow you to keep a round going,” said Rahm who drained a 19-foot eagle putt at the fifth hole and lead the field in Strokes Gained: Putting for the day.
Rahm bogeyed the 14th after his tee shot plugged in the greenside bunker, but he didn’t let his frustration with a bad break – he said his tee shot plugged in the same spot the day before in the pro-am too – get him down.
“Sometimes when I get mad in those situations it leads to finishing strong and playing really good,” he said. “Especially on the tee shot at 15. I unloaded some stress on that one.”
68.231 is the lowest opening-round scoring average since the Sentry Tournament of Champions moved to the Plantation Course in 1999.
— PGA TOUR Communications (@PGATOURComms) January 6, 2023
Does Rahm feel as if he has unfinished business at the TOC after playing out of mind last year and still coming up short?
“I can make a case for that on a lot of golf courses,” he said. “I can’t say much, man, I shot 33 under. I got beat by 34 under. Period. That’s just what it is. We both played really good golf. It was a great battle. Hopefully, if we get to that point again, hopefully it’s me and hopefully I end up on the win, winning by one.”
Spaun’s 5-hour energy
J.J. Spaun is a rookie this week at Kapalaua, a course where local knowledge on the greens can go a long way. But with his two-year-old child and wife making the trip to Maui, Spaun, who arrived on New Year’s Eve, said he spent most of the time leading up to the tournament chilling on the beach, just being dad and throwing back a few Mai Tais. His wife laid down the law, limiting him to five hours of practice per day.
“Because sometimes I can get like stuck out here for a long time,” he said.
Spaun, who won the Valero Texas Open in April to qualify for the event, said he was struggling with his game during the fall season despite making every cut. He said he felt as if he let down his partner, Keith Mitchell, at the QBE Shootout, where they finished last in the two-person team event.
“Well, actually, we had a top-12, which was nice,” he joked. “I felt bad. So that kind of made me feel like I got to get to work after that.”
Has Mitchell forgiven him for his poor performance?
“I don’t know. He hasn’t texted me since then. Not even a Merry Christmas or Happy New Year,” he said.
Spaun was back in top form in the opening round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He fired a bogey-free 9-under 64, reeling off four birdies in a row starting at 12 and ranked first in proximity to the hole with his approach shots.
“Maybe I should stick to it,” he said of his wife limiting his practice to five hours. “She said, ‘Well, yeah, if you start missing some cuts we can adjust, we can add a couple hours there.’ This is, these are the conversations I have. I’m not even joking. I mean, this is how, our marriage…doesn’t get too sideways. Happy wife, happy life.”
Christmas at the Spieths
Guess who’s coming for dinner…and eagles? Tom Kim
Tom Kim recently moved to Dallas, the hometown of Jordan Spieth and started working with Cameron McCormack, the longtime instructor for Spieth. As a result, they’ve developed a friendship.
“The more time I spent with Jordan just we kind of became closer friends. I think we shared a plane back from Hero (World Challenge in the Bahamas in December) back to Dallas, so I took the Jordan Air,” Kim said with a laugh of flying private.
But Spieth’s generosity didn’t stop there. With Kim new to the area and his family out of town, Kim was flying solo for the holidays. That is until Spieth invited him to Christmas dinner with his family, including son Sammy. Kim reportedly went back for food buffet style as Golf Channel’s Smylie Kaufman reported he enjoyed fourths.
“I got to spend some time with the Spieths and kind of babysit Sammy, which was really cool. But, yeah, it’s been amazing to kind of build a friendship and it was really cool to play with him today,” Kim said.
Kim got the better of Spieth, his playing partner on Thursday, posting 8-under 65 to sit alone in fourth place, two strokes better than Spieth. The highlight of Kim’s round was a pair of eagles at six and 15. At the par-4 sixth, Kim used his 53-degree gap wedge and caddie Joe Skovron counted off 107 yards.
“Great yardage. Joe said just slightly left of the hole. I wanted to go right at it. It was like literally an inch away from the hole left. So it was a good call from Joe,” he said.
Kim celebrated the hole out by asking if they got that on camera. Oh, yes, they did.
We got it, @JoohyungKim0621 🎥 pic.twitter.com/YUle1KUMCw
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 6, 2023
First (official) Annual Finau Family Invitational…and Tony gets shutout
Tony Finau warmed up for the Sentry Tournament of Champions by playing a practice round yesterday afternoon with his family at Kapalua’s Bay Course. Finau, who won the 3M Open, Rocket Mortgage Classic and Cadence Bank Houston Open last year, hosted the first annual Finau Family Invitational, which pitted members of his family against Team Summerhays – swing coach Boyd and son Preston, and a team of Finau’s cousins he calls “the Old Boys.”
The cousins claimed the win in the four-man scramble, Preston, who plays for Arizona State, shot 65 to edge Finau (66) in the gross division, and Finau’s son Jraice shot 71 gross and ran away with the net title.
“We give him 12 shots because everyone strokes off me. Usually 12-14 shots is right for him and he kicked my butt,” Finau said. “I literally won nothing at my Finau Family Invitational. But I was happy to provide a little purse. Nothing crazy but just enough to get everybody’s blood flowing.”
Finau said the family has played the Bay Course in previous visits to the Sentry Tournament of Champions, but he wanted to make something more official.
“I felt like there was just way too much talent in our family and in our group to not at least have something a little more official since we’re all down here and they like coming out here and watching me play this week,” he said.
Finau shot a bogey-free 6-under 67 in the opening round.