TCN EXCLUSIVE: Caddie J.J. Jakovac opens up about Open Championship win with Collin Morikawa
Sunday at the Open Championship is always appointment viewing for golf fans. Get up a little early, grab some coffee and your favorite breakfast, sit back and soak in one of the best golf experiences for television viewing all year.
If you’re a caddie and you’ve made the trip across the Atlantic, it’s obviously a better seat in the house to be onsite and soaking in the sights and sounds of an Open Sunday.
If you’re veteran looper J.J. Jakovac, and your player — Collin Morikawa — wins the claret jug and it’s your 39th birthday, even better.
During Morikawa’s thoughtful three-minute acceptance speech he thanked the members of his team, his family, the fans, and of course, Jakovac. The 24-year-old then let the 30,000 or so assembled there know it was Jakovac’s birthday.
“It was pretty cool, incredible,” Jakovac said of the crowd serenading him with ‘happy birthday’. “I had a feeling that Collin might say something just because he knows it’s my birthday. When he said it’s my caddie’s birthday and they all started singing, that was pretty crazy. I don’t think I’ll ever get that again. Thirty-thousand people singing happy birthday, but it was pretty special.”
It was a special week for Morikawa in winning the 149th Open at Royal St. George’s.
Though he took over the lead on front nine and held it firmly the rest of the way, Jakovac didn’t let his mind get ahead of things, at least until the very end.
“To be honest, I didn’t think ahead too much until he hit that second shot on the green (on 18), and once he did that I thought to myself, ‘alright, this is a done deal’,” Jakovac said.
“Just letting him walk up the last hole with the bleachers and grandstands completely packed with people was a really cool atmosphere to see. Very different than the first major he won (2020 PGA with no fans), because of the fans and because of the atmosphere.”
Jakovac said that image of his player walking up to what many consider the best walk in golf (the 18th surrounded by grandstands, is one of the lasting images he’ll take for years from their win.
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 18, 2021
And where does the week itself rank for Jakovac in his career?
“Number one,” Jakovac said, without hesitation. “I’ve always liked the Open Championship the best out of any major. I’ve always liked caddying there. I like links golf, I like the challenge of it, I love the fans over there and the fact that fans are back. It happened on my birthday. It’s got to be No. 1. It’s incredible.”
Jakovac did caddie for Ryan Moore during the clinching match of the 2016 Ryder Cup and had said a few times since that that was his favorite moment as a caddie. Understandably, personal rankings change.
On the course, Jakovac cited a couple up and downs as the key to bringing the claret jug home.
“Ten and 15 were what I thought were the two big moments of the round,” Jakovac said. “He hit both of those balls in tough spots and they were massive momentum keepers. That shot on 10 could have taken us sideways and then the one on 15 was a really tough up and down and shows his championship moxie I guess.”
Jakovac was pretty involved in the read on 15. After Morikawa drained that clutch putt to complete the tricky up and down, he handed his putter over to his caddie and told him, “good read.”
So, how did Morikawa and Jakovac celebrate this amazing win?
They only had a couple hours to eat dinner at the lodge next to the course. Though only a short time, it was their first chance to talk about the win.
“It was awesome,” Jakovac said. “I talked about how many clutch shots he hit and I was talking with him about nerves and stuff like that. It was fun. It was a fun evening to share the moment of winning that. It’s another huge moment in his young career.”
Of course they had to have a drink from the claret jug with a local lager over dinner.
“We just had a couple beers out of it and that was it,” Jakovac said.
What a shame, moments like this don’t exactly grow on trees. By 11 p.m., they needed to drive the 2 1/2 hours to London for their commercial flight to Atlanta the next day.
When they arrived in London they did share some time with five fellow pros and caddies.
“We were at the lounge at the airport the next day and a lot of players from the Tour and caddies were there and taking the same flight through Atlanta that we were so we show up and we’ve got this box and they’re like, ‘hey what’s in the box?’ Joking around, obviously, because they knew what was in the box. So they got the trophy out and they kind of passed it around and shared it.”
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Many on Twitter have seen Matt Adams’s photo of Morikwa wheeling his claret jug through the Atlanta airport. Some were surprised Morikawa was among the masses at that point. To Jakovac, it made plenty of sense.
— MattAdamsGC/FoL (@MattAdamsFoL) July 19, 2021
“Why wouldn’t you fly commercial? We had the flight already booked,” Jakovac said.
And there’s a funny story about how the jug went through security.
“There was a guy at security when we were in Atlanta. We had gone through customs and one of the customs officers right before you leave the baggage claim he was like, ‘what’s in that box?’” Jakovac said.
“And I was like ‘the Claret Jug,’ and he was like ‘what’s that?’ and I said it’s the trophy they give you when you win the Open.’ And he was like ‘what’s that?’ and I was like ‘don’t worry about it man.’ I looked over at them and his co-workers knew what it was and they said, ‘don’t worry, it’s fine, it’s fine’ so we just walked by.”
Morikawa and Jakovac landed from a private jet flight via Atlanta to Las Vegas at 6 p.m. PT on Monday, so a celebration dinner would have to wait until Tuesday.
They found a spot near the MGM Grand and filled the claret jug with Dom Perignon champagne.
The Morikawa Open win was amazing in many ways, but the fact he’d never played links golf until the week before at the Scottish Open begs the question: how he was so quickly able to make the transition?
“He’s a quick learner obviously, it was super valuable experience at the Scottish,” Jakovac said. “He kept missing a lot of putts, he was three putting, his speed was very bad. But he used it as a learning experience and figured how to get better at it and it’s amazing how quickly he did get better at it. Things he needed to learn, he learned, and he did it quickly and he’d kind of been trending that direction.”
Jakovac explained that Morikawa had already been hitting chip shots with a lot more run the past couple months and that boded well for getting up and down at the Open.
The veteran looper also advised Morikawa with his putting grip the week of the Open, coming off a struggling week on the greens in the Scottish Open.
“During practice rounds, I know long putting was a weakness from the week before, so I dropped balls down on the greens and put a little plastic cup down and we’d practice to different hole locations that we thought might be there and he was still struggling with the speed, we added some weight to it, to give it a little more mass and earlier to hit,” Jakovac said.
“Finally on Wednesday, I said, ‘why don’t you just grab it conventional and you can get a little bit more load on the shaft, because the whole reason why you putt with the claw is for no manipulation and a pendulum stroke, it’s therefore hard to get any real hit on the ball. When you grip it conventional you can play it more like a real golf shot and give it a little more lag in the shaft.’ He did that a couple times and he instantly hit to where his eye was seeing and it helped him out.”
Jakovac also said Morikawa’s change to a different 7-9 iron was pretty instant as well on that Monday.
“On the range on Monday he liked those clubs, Trackman said the spin was good, too,” Jakovac said. “That actually only took 20 minutes. He put them in and said, ‘yep, this is what I was looking for,’ so it was nice.”
Morikawa had to overcome a 2 over through five stretch in Saturday’s third round and Jakovac said they basically hit the reset button.
“It was a bad start on Saturday, and then we just stood on six tee and just reset,” he explained. “We said let’s just start over and take it one shot at a time from here. We got this. Then he ends up knocking a 3-wood on the green on seven in two and instantly he was back. It was a nice change of momentum.”
Jakovac said he received over 230 text messages from friends, family and fellow caddies Sunday night and spent the drive to London that night getting back to as many as he could. Some caddies were sarcastic, saying things like “hang in there, you’ll catch a break.”
In the big picture, Jakovac knows when he’s hopefully got grandkids 30 years from now, he’ll have some pretty good memories to share with his grandkids from Morikawa’s Open win.
“I’ll remember the entirety of the week but that back nine on Sunday you’re so focused, you’re nervous, you’re excited and it’s just a different feeling even for me, even though I’m not playing but watching him play, you’ve kind of got to be at that same level of focus and commitment,” Jakovac said. “Just being in a major, in my favorite major, on a Sunday on a beautiful day on a great golf course and remembering the way he performed under pressure.”
Jakovac is home for four days in Vegas, then he jets off to Tokyo on Saturday for the Olympics. Has he gotten to celebrate with 3-year-old Bo and 9-month-old Benji.
“I’ve seen them, I don’t know if we’ve really celebrated,” Jakovac said. “They have no idea what happened.”
They will one day, and so will those grandkids.