The Barracuda Championship is known for landing the stars before their stars.
Players like Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia and Jason Day each played in the PGA Tour stop in Reno before their ascent to the top of the golf game. Scott played at Montreux in 2000, as did Garcia. Watson played here as a rookie in 2006, as did Day. Each were more potential than production when they played in Reno. Each went on to win major championships and rise to the top two in the World Golf Rankings.
When they played here, they were billed as the “next big thing,” a title that is held at this year’s event by Collin Morikawa, a four-time All-American who graduated from Cal in May before turning pro this summer. The 22-year-old Southern California native finished tied for 14th in his first PGA Tour event as a professional and has a second-place and fourth-place finish on Tour stops earlier this month.
“It’s everything and more than I wanted,” Morikawa said earlier this week. “I obviously set a lot of goals for myself coming into the summer and I’ve reached a lot of those, but the next goal is to win and whether it be this week or a couple of months from now, it’s going to be really special. I know it’s going to take four really good rounds. I’m going to have to really focus, especially here with elevation. It’s going to take a lot out of you physically and mentally. It should be an exciting test out here at the Barracuda.”
Morikawa, who is 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, received a sponsor exemption for the Barracuda, as did Justin Suh, a four-time All-American out of USC. Morikawa has enjoyed more immediate success than Suh, making the cut in all five of his starts this summer, including a tie for 35th at the U.S. Open where he finished 1-over par in his first major.
Morikawa said he’s received a lot of advice from major victors Justin Thomas and Justin Rose as well as Cal alums Max Homa and Michael Kim, who have both won Tour events in the last 12 months.
“It’s cool to see all these guys that you see on TV and you see their names pop up all the time whether it’s on your phone or on TV,” Morikawa said. “For me, it’s just to learn as much as I can for this summer. I’m still a a rookie. I don’t even know if you can consider me a rookie on the PGA Tour yet. But it’s just to pick their brains, see what they do best and make your own routines, your own plans, but at the end of the day you want to play your own game and be yourself. This summer, there’s been a lot of learning experiences for the better. I’ve been able to see my game at the best I’ve played in a while, so it’s good to see where I’m going to be trending in the next couple of months or the next year.”
This week marks Morikawa’s first trip to Montreux, which sits at the second-highest elevation on the PGA Tour at more than a mile above sea level. That elevation change is a bit of a curve ball for Morikawa and the rest of the field, as is the different scoring system as the Barracuda uses the modified Stableford scoring system, which rewards more aggressive play as birdies and eagles are more valuable than usual. Morikawa said the elevation will be trickier than the scoring system.
“There’s a lot of adjustments, especially with distance control,” Morikawa said. “You’re going to hit some clubs 20-30 yards further than you usually do. The course is going to play a little different off the tee. The wind will be a factor, but it’s cool to see a 500-yard par-4 and you’re hitting iron and wedge or iron, 9 iron and play the course a lot differently than you normally would with a course of this length.”
After his recent hot stretch of a tie for second at the 3M Open and a tie for fourth at the John Deere Classic, Morikawa's expectations for himself have risen to the point he feels a win is coming.
“After 3M and after a couple of weeks ago at John Deere, it’s just a boost of confidence,” Morikawa said. “Every single week now it’s, ‘Let’s come out here and win.’ I know it’s going to take a lot to go out there and you have to play some really good golf, but having that little bit extra edge mentally is going to be a huge boost for the next couple of weeks to finish off the season.”
While this Morikawa’s first event in Reno, he’s been to Northern Nevada before, but not to golf. Instead it was a skiing trip.
“That was a long time ago,” Morikawa said. “I don’t remember much, but I remember it was amazing, a beautiful area. To be out here in the mountains is something I love. Beautiful scenery, so hopefully I stay out here and see some putts drop this weekend.”
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.