Spirit of the Game: Collin Morikawa—Coming Up Big
May 17, 2021
When it mattered the most, being short proved a great advantage for Cal alum 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 final round of last year’s PGA Championship on the short par-4 16th.
With the hole playing at 294-yards it 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 lore. 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 was a major champion. A three-time PGA TOUR winner already in just 29 starts. At the time, he had 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 the COVID_19 pandemic.. 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.”
The win secured history. At age 23 years, 6 months, 3 days, he became 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 gushed. “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 set 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).