Collin Morikawa comes of age at the PGA Championship
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Written by Ben Everill @BEverillGolfbet
Collin Morikawa’s winning highlights from PGA Championship
SAN FRANCISCO – When it mattered most, being short proved a great advantage for Collin Morikawa.
This is not about his diminutive stature but rather his length off the tee. TPC Harding Park was a bombers' paradise until the critical moment of the PGA Championship on Sunday. When Morikawa reached the short par-4 16th.
At 294-yards on Sunday the hole was inviting players to have a crack, particularly as nine of them had been part of the lead during a frantic final round. Someone had to step up. Problem was, in these modern times of big hitters, for most of them, 294 yards is too short to wail away with driver.
Bryson DeChambeau hits his drives over 350 yards, so to Tony Finau. Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Jason Day, Matthew Wolff, Cameron Champ … the list of long hitters in contention was long.
But they’d have to take 3-wood, or try to take something off their longest club, finesse the ball in the soupy heavy air. Morikawa had the perfect number for his driver. The same driver that had helped him to lead the field in driving accuracy for the week. Funny thing is, pre-tournament he was certain he wouldn’t be going for that green at all.
“I told Colt Knost, he saw me Wednesday afternoon practicing on there, and he asked me if I was ever going to go for it. I told him a quick no, it's too much into the wind, why go for it. I didn't think the pin was going to be where it was,” Morikawa said.
But with the tee up and pin sitting in the middle where a ball rolling up onto the green would feed towards it was just too tempting. Particularly given just a few weeks back, at the Workday Charity Open at Muirfield Village, he’d had similar success when the 14th hole was played from a similar distance.
Morikawa decided to go for it. And the rest will live in golf history forever more. His ball landed perfectly and rolled up to seven feet. Soon after Morikawa buried the eagle putt and took a commanding lead he would not relinquish. At just 23 he is a major champion. A three time PGA TOUR winner already in just 29 starts. He has more wins than missed cuts.
“Those are moments I'm always going to remember. I want to say it was 278 front, 294 hole. My ball went 291, exactly how I played it. It just had to be a normal driver for me. I didn't have to do anything special. Thankfully I don't hit it 330,” he grinned.
The only downside was only a small smattering of people were there to see it live thanks to these COVID-19 times. It was a shot that deserved a roar to rival anything Tiger Woods heard in his prime. And he would have received it. After all he’s a California kid who went to college at Cal Berkeley. They would have been going berserk.
“This is the one time I really wish there were crowds right there,” Morikawa said. “I heard some claps. Obviously not a ton. But the claps could mean I'm on the green and I've got 50 feet. Walking up I knew it was right above the tier, and you had to make it. I had to make that putt. Two strokes is a lot different than one stroke coming down 18.”
Indeed it was. It was in the end unassailable for anyone else. And it secured history. At age 23 years, 6 months, 3 days, he becomes the third-youngest PGA Championship winner since World War II, behind only Rory McIlroy and Jack Nicklaus. Woods won a PGA at 23 also.
“It's great company. It's been crazy, because this entire start of my professional career, I see all the things comparing to Tiger … but Tiger is on a completely different level. I think we all know that,” Morikawa gushes. “But any time you're in the conversation of the greats, Jack, Rory, Tiger, no matter who it is, if you're in that conversation, you're doing something well.”
He is also just the third player since 1970 to win a major in two or fewer major starts after his U.S. Open appearance last year and is just the ninth player to win the PGA Championship in their tournament debut.
His weekend rounds of 65-64 for 129 sets the lowest closing 36-hole score in PGA Championship history, beating Woods 130 from 2018 and the 64 ties the PGA Championship record for lowest final-round score by a winner with Steve Elkington (1995).
The win sent Morikawa to second in the FedExCup standings and fifth in the world rankings. While the golf world continues to be a little taken aback by the quick success, it’s not a surprise to the man himself.
“I've believed in myself since day one. I haven't let up from that,” he said.
“When I woke up today, I was like, this is meant to be. This is where I feel very comfortable. This is where I want to be, and I'm not scared from it. I think if I was scared from it, the last few holes would have been a little different.”
Morikawa was an amateur standout so his confidence is not misplaced. Clearly he has the game to back up any bravado he brings to the course. It’s not arrogance, it’s just pure will to win. And with the FedExCup Playoffs upcoming and another six majors and a PLAYERS among tournaments in the next 11 months he is ready to continue his rise.
“It doesn't stop here. I've got a very good taste of what this is like, what a major championship is like,” he said. “The majors are going to be circled in, just like everyone else, but I've got to focus on every single week. I'm trying to win every single week. I'm not trying to come out and just win the majors. I'm 23. This is my first full year.
“I love golf. I love every part of it. I love being in this position and I love just being able to come out here and play with a bunch of guys that love the sport, too.”
The sport loves him back. And will for a long time to come.