Ultimately there was no need for the kind of US PGA Championship playoff that could have risked social distancing infractions. Of the wave of data that will now surround Collin Morikawa, golf’s latest major winner, one element stands out: just 15 months ago he was a college student.
Morikawa marched through a congested Sunday scene at Harding Park, which had frequently seen six- and seven-way ties for the lead. He produced the shot of the tournament, just when it mattered, with a towering drive to within 2.5 metres (8ft) of the par four 16th hole’s pin.
As he slammed home his putt for an eagle, the Wanamaker Trophy was his barring meltdown. The 23-year-old, who has turned heads since joining the professional ranks last summer, won the US PGA by two at 13 under par. His final round of 64 emphasises a nerveless approach in what was only his second major appearance.
It isn’t supposed to be this straightforward.
If we didn’t already know, it is now staring us in the face: golf has a new breed of superstar, with Morikawa at the forefront. He has missed as many cuts as a professional – one – as he has claimed major titles. Confirmation that he has leapt inside the world’s top five is likely to arrive on Monday morning.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s been a life goal, obviously as a little kid, kind of watching everyone as I grew up, all these professionals, and this is always what I’ve wanted to do. I felt very comfortable from the start.
“As an amateur, junior golfer, turning professional last year, but to finally close it off and come out here in San Francisco, pretty much my second home where I spent the last four years, is pretty special.”
Fortune favoured Morikawa. On the 14th, a drive bound for tricky rough instead bounced almost at right angles into the fairway. Two shots later, Morikawa was chipping in for a crucial birdie. His only subsequent misstep was an amusing and minor one: Morikawa lifted the trophy with such vigour that the lid flew off.
Paul Casey, two decades Morikawa’s senior, emerged as the champion’s biggest threat. Casey posted a Sunday 66, as proved eight shots better than his playing partner, Brooks Koepka. As the defending champion, Koepka made rather a lot of noise about upstaging Dustin Johnson on the US PGA’s day four. Johnson holed the final putt of the tournament to join Casey at 11 under. Too little, too late, was the cry. Koepka simply capitulated.
Casey, who returned just a single day four bogey, did little wrong. Morikawa proved too good, as is likely to become a theme. “Collin thoroughly deserves it,” said Casey. “I played phenomenal golf and there’s nothing I would change. I’m very, very happy with how I played. I had a great attitude, stayed very calm and stayed in the present. It wasn’t enough.”
A leaderboard smattered with youthful vigour saw Matthew Wolff and Scottie Scheffler finish fourth. Cameron Champ, for so long an integral part of proceedings, tied 10th. There were old hands on sight: Jason Day shared fourth at 10 under. Justin Rose finished a shot further back and ninth.
Back-to-back 66s over the weekend meant Bryson DeChambeau matched Day, Wolff, Scheffler and Tony Finau. To DeChambeau, this result “super validates” lockdown work has totally transformed his physique and led to an increase in power. “I played great golf this whole week,” DeChambeau said. “I was finally able to finish in the top five in a major. That’s an awesome accolade and next step is to win. I feel like my game is good enough.”
Rory McIlroy signed off with a 68, meaning a tie for 33rd. More notable than fourth round birdies and bogeys was McIlroy’s legitimate swipe at Koepka, who had cast aspersions towards Johnson’s single major success during Saturday media duties. “I was watching the golf last night and heard the interview and was just sort of taken aback a little bit by what he said,” McIlroy admitted. “Whether he was trying to play mind games or not … if he’s trying to play mind games, he’s trying to do it to the wrong person. I don’t think DJ really gives much of a concern to that.
“I certainly try to respect everyone out here. Everyone is a great player. If you’ve won a major championship, you’re a hell of a player. Doesn’t mean you’ve ‘only’ won one; you’ve won one, and you’ve had to do a lot of good things to do that. It’s sort of hard to knock a guy that’s got 21 wins on the PGA Tour, which is three times what Brooks has.”
Koepka is unlikely to rethink his strategy but McIlroy’s sentiment was solid.