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SAN FRANCISCO — One of the greatest shots in golf’s major championship history happened in front of 100 people, at most.
And standing 10 feet away from Colin Morikawa as his 293-yard tee shot at the par-4 16th at TPC Harding Park landed seven feet from the hole, I had no idea it was as good as it was.
Sure, there was a smattering of cheers from around green, but who knew what that meant?
So I looked to Morikawa for a reaction and received… very little. He gave a quiet fist bump to his caddie, J.J. Jakovac, flashed a quick smile, and started thinking about his eagle putt. He’d sink it a few moments later, giving him a two-shot lead that he would not relent on the final two holes to win the 2020 PGA Championship.
The PGA was only the former Cal star’s second major tournament. At 23, going into the final three holes tied for the lead in a major should have been the most fraught moments of his life.
But Morikawa carries himself with such confidence that the best shot of the tournament — an all-timer — that came at the biggest moment of his round, was an expected outcome to him.
“Why not hit a great driver? Why not hit that little left-to-right shot with the wind helping off the left?” Morikawa said of the shot.
“It just fit my eye,” he told CBS after the win.
Yes, it’s just that easy for him.
And it won’t be long until everyone expects this kind of excellence out the Californian.
In fact, you might as well get a head start: This won’t be Morikawa’s last major win.
The future of golf is bright. Night bright enough to break through the San Francisco marine layer — nothing is that strong — but radiant, nevertheless. Sunday’s final round featured a flock of eight, at times, nine players vying to win the first major championship of this strange year. Tiger Woods wasn’t part of the proceedings, but there was a 21-year-old, two 23-year-olds, and a 24-year-old. The skill of the young players on display Sunday made the two players who tied for second, Paul Casey (43) and Dustin Johnson (36) are downright ancient.
There’s a new generation of greatness out there on the tour. And Morikawa might end up being the greatest of the crew.
It cannot be repeated enough: Morikawa finished with a 64 in the final round of a major where he was being chased down the stretch. Who does that 23 years old?
Only the greats.
The last four players to win their first PGA Championship at age 23 are the elite of the elite: Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, and Jack Nicklaus.
“This is just a lot of confidence, a lot of momentum, and it just gives me a little taste of what’s to come,” Morikawa said.
Look out for what’s next. Because if this is the floor, the ceiling is going to be incredibly high.
The major victory was Morikawa’s first, but it’s his third win in his professional career, which is just over a year old and spans 27 tournaments. He’s only missed one cut so far.
Yes, that’s right — he has three wins, one major, and one missed cut in his young career.
Consistency and excellence is a tremendous combination. And he’s just getting started.
Morikawa — who played four years at Cal — called the Bay Area his “second home” after the win Sunday, but claimed his second-home course advantage at TPC Harding Park wasn’t as strong as he’d have liked it to be.
“Being able to see the course about a dozen times. You wish it helped a little more,” Morikawa said. “I guess it helped enough.”
“Being out here in San Francisco — I haven’t been back since I graduated last year… So it’s a pretty special place. It always will be.”
So if familiarity wasn’t the difference, what was?
Morikawa led the field in fairways hit, average distance to the hole on greens in regulation, and strokes gained putting in the tournament.
The straight driving and elite iron play was no surprise — Morikawa can hit a six-iron tighter to the hole than most other pros can hit a sand wedge. But the putting? That was a big change.
The flat stick is inarguably the weakest part of his game, yet Morikawa did work on the greens at Harding Park. His iron play gave him more chances than the rest of the field — this time, he finished them.
“If he putts like that, it’s really hard to beat him because he just hits his irons that well and he’s always in the fairway,” Jakovac said. “It’s a process, but he’s obviously putted well this week.”
How often Morikawa wins moving forward will tell us a lot about how the sport of golf is adapting to the dramatic length some of Morikawa’s peers have displayed off the tee.
For years now, top golf courses — the ones we see on the PGA Tour and hosting major championships — have become longer and longer in an attempt to catch up with long hitters.
And those long hitters are laughing at the futility of moving tee boxes back.
It’s a grip-it-and-rip-it tour. Matthew Wolff (21) and Cameron Champ (23) routinely drive the ball 330 yards. Bryson DeChambeau (26) is carrying the ball that far. All finished in the top-10 at Harding Park.
Morikawa doesn’t even average 300 yards off the tee — he came into the tournament 110th in driving distance on the PGA Tour.
He counters power with precision.
It’s refreshing. And that might be the right path to take to have success as the sport evolves.
If instead of demanding more power from players, course architects go the Harding Park model and build up rough, get clever with tree placement, and generally punish those who try to smash their way to victory, Morikawa could be situated to be a dominant player on tour.
If he isn’t already approaching that status.
Regardless of what happens with course management in the years to come, Morikawa is positioned to be in a position to win on Sundays often for the next decade-plus.
And watching him ace the toughest test of his life Sunday, as if it was never in doubt, I’d bet on him to come out on top more often than not.
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Author: Dieter Kurtenbach