It will go down as one of those ‘where were you when’ moments. Where were you when Collin Morikawa struck what will surely become known as one of the greatest shots in golf history on his way to a first major title at the age of just 23?
We always knew it was going to take something truly special to win this year’s PGA Championship – the first major tournament of 2020 following the sport’s shutdown due to the global pandemic.
This was a stroke of genius. Albeit one in front of no fans.
No raucous cheers, yet a truly iconic shot for the ages at the 294-yard par-4 16th hole that separated Morikawa from the pack amid a thrilling and pulsating final day at Harding Park, San Francisco – which at one point saw seven players tied for the lead at 10-under par late on Sunday.
Playing in just his second major and in his home state, the California youngster drove the ball to within seven feet of the hole. And then, with nerveless, ice-cool precision, he rolled in the eagle putt that would ultimately propel him to a famous two-shot victory over overnight leader and 2016 US Open champion Dustin Johnson and England’s Paul Casey.
Morikawa closed with a six-under 64, the lowest final round by a champion at this event in a quarter of a century and coming in just his 28th start as a professional.
Not surprisingly, an elated Morikawa – who is of Japanese and Chinese descent – said he was on “Cloud Nine” after his astonishing exploits, but he admitted something was missing.
“This is the one time I really wish there were crowds right there, but no. I was just praying for a straight bounce short of the green, on to the green and then after it bounced it kind of got behind a tree that we couldn’t see around the corner,” he said.
“So once it bounced, I was like ‘Okay, I will take it anywhere it is’ because it is on the green, whether it’s short, long and I peeked around right at the tee and looked around the tree and it looked really, really good.”
Even then, he just couldn’t really be sure of where exactly his ball was given the fact this was a major tournament like no other.
“So I heard some claps. Obviously not a ton. But you know, the claps could mean I’m on the green and I’ve got 50 feet. But 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.”
Morikawa – who started playing golf as a five-year old – is living the dream after winning the PGA Championship at the very first time of asking.
After his third PGA Tour victory, he moves to world No. 5 and only Rory Mcllroy and the legendary Jack Nicklaus were younger than him when they won this particular tournament during the stroke-play era.
“It’s great company,” enthused Morikawa. “You know, it’s been crazy, because this entire start of my professional career, I see all the things comparing [me] to Tiger [Woods] and doing all this and then Tiger is on a completely different level. I think we all know that.
“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.”
And it seems even basketball greats want a piece of the action when it comes to all things Morikawa.
Take for example the surreal moment when a certain ‘guest’ reporter made a special appearance at the youngster’s press conference. The ‘reporter’ in question? Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry, himself a talented and very keen golfer.
Curry even appeared to offer his services as a caddie, if ever needed. The three-time NBA champion revealing: “I’m free for the next three months if you need a caddie or replacement. If you need me, I’m available.”
Morikawa – who played college golf just a few miles away from the Harding Park course – shook off any possible nerves and composed himself enough to engage with the NBA icon.
“Steph, you mind taking off your hat? No, it’s fun to see you. I saw you out there on 9 and my caddie is a huge Warriors fan. I think you heard him. I’m not! I’m an L.A. boy at heart.”
Morikawa has only been a professional golfer for just over a year.
On Sunday, he showed composure and maturity way behind his years and already has the respect of some big names in the golf world, Brooks Koepka for one.
The 30 year-old Floridian – who was denied the chance of a historic three-peat at the PGA Championship after a final round 74 left him 10-shots back – paid him a tribute.
“He’s really good. You see these guys coming out of college now, they are ready to win and [he’s] prime example,” he said.
“I think of that group – him, Matt Wolff, Viktor Hovland. It’s impressive what they do. They come out of college and they’re ready to play out here. Hats off to him.”
The vanquished Casey – whose long wait for a first career major continues – described Morikawa’s epic shot at 16 as “brilliant.”
“Instant maturity was probably the one thing that stood out,” he said.
“I mean, you’ve heard him talk. Very mature in the words he chooses, the way he speaks, the way he plays golf.”
The first major of the year delivered plenty of compelling story lines, not least Koepka surprisingly failing to make a serious tilt at the title, given he was only two shots back through three rounds.
We also saw another near miss for Johnson, who once again had the lead after 54 holes at a major but could not go on and get the job done.
Then there’s Woods – who’ll turn 45 later this year – and who, after an encouraging first round on Thursday, fell away considerably over the weekend to finish at one-under par for the tournament, 12 shots adrift and with hopes of a 16th major extinguished for now.
While self-doubt is something all top athletes must deal with from time to time, it’s not currently an issue for Morikawa who says he’s “believed in himself since day one.” Though it seems there’s always room for improvement.
His only faux pas on Sunday came off the course when, upon lifting the famed Wanamaker trophy, the lid come tumbling off. His accompanying facial expression as it all unfolded was priceless.
However, Morikawa will cherish his breakthrough career moment for years to come. A truly life-changing weekend that’s left this prodigious golfing talent “California dreaming” in San Francisco.