If all you saw were the highlights of how Collin Morikawa beat back the biggest names in golf and walked off with the PGA Championship, you’d conclude he did it the old-fashioned way.
The 23-year-old Californian delivered a 6-under 64 in the final round, including a signature shot that fans will be talking about for decades. He hit more fairways and greens, and picked up more strokes with the putter over four days than anyone else in the field. He even arrived at TPC Harding Park with some built-in advantages, in top form after winning twice on tour during this re-jiggered season, and he knew the course well from his days playing college golf at nearby Cal-Berkeley.
He parlayed all that into a two-shot victory Sunday over third-round leader Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey. Two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka talked a good game, but crashed in his effort to three-peat with an uncharacteristic closing 74. After a turn-back-the-page opening round, Tiger Woods finished tied for 37th, feeling all of his 44 years and heading home before the fireworks on the back nine exploded.
What Morikawa said afterward sounded familiar, too. Asked whether he expected to win his first major this soon, he looked puzzled for the first time all day.
“Of course,” he began. “Why not? If you believe in yourself — and I believe I can do it —why not have it as one of my goals?
“It’s crazy,” Morikawa added a moment later, “because it feels like this is where I’m supposed to be.”
Chalk that up to youth if you like, but something about this kid’s demeanor suggests that he’s built for the long haul. Like most of the current players at the top of the game, and many of the highly touted amateurs who’ve debuted on tour in recent years, Morikawa packs plenty of power.
But despite his limited experience, Morikawa also possesses one of the most complete all-around games on display at the moment, giving him the freedom to apply new solutions to the same old problems that derailed everyone else coming down the stretch.
By the tie Morikawa faced his third shot in front of the 14th green, there were seven names tied atop the leaderboard at 10-under, the kind of traffic jam that happens only every so often in a major. The safe shot would have been a low-running chip to the ridge between him and the flag, hoping the ball trickled down close to the hole. Instead, Morikawa opened up the blade of his 60-degree wedge and improvised a high-risk, high-spin variation that landed on that same ridge, grabbed the turf briefly and slid straight into the cup for the outright lead.
Two holes later, at the 294-yard, par-4 16th, Morikawa forgot about finesse and bombed a driver to within 7 feet of the flag. His only regret? No spectators on the course because of the COVID-19 pandemic meant he initially had no idea how good it turned out.
“This is one time I really wish there were crowds,” Morikawa said. “I was just praying for a straight bounce … and then after it bounced, it kind of got behind a tree that we couldn’t see around the corner. So once it bounced, I was like ‘OK, I will take it anywhere.’
“I peeked around right and looked around the tree, and it looked really, really good.”
It was. He coolly drained the eagle putt from 7 feet and carried the 13-under cushion all the way to the scoring tent without much more drama.
The closest he came to losing his cool, not surprising, came in a post-round press conference when the first question thrown his way came from NBA star Steph Curry, usually employed by the Golden State Warriors, but working on this occasion for an outlet he identified as “Underrated Media.”
Curry wanted to know whether Morikawa kept an eye on the leaderboard during those tense moments down the stretch.
“Wow! My caddie is a huge Warriors fan … but yeah, I did,” Morikawa said. “I knew where I stood.”
And he doesn’t plan to climb down from that perch anytime soon.