Show Collin Morikawa’s Sunday tee shot at no. 16 to any golfer, and you’re bound to get a jealous sigh in return. Even without context, it was a perfect shot—294 yards, dropped in so gently that it rolled up to within 6 feet of the hole.
Tell that same golfer the shot was hit by a 23-year-old, and they may consider giving up the game forever. Next, mention that it was done in the player’s second career major with the likes of Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, and Bryson DeChambeau breathing down his neck. Then duck. (I recommend protective padding before trying this experiment at home.)
If you’d only heard of Morikawa in passing before this weekend, well, let’s just say you won’t be able to avoid it for the foreseeable future. Morikawa won the 102nd PGA Championship with the finesse and cool that comes from plenty of experience. Except he doesn’t have much. This was just the 28th professional start of his career, and his third win. (For those of you doing math at home, that means he’s winning nearly every nine times he tees it up. And yes, that is exceptionally good.) He finished the tournament at 13-under par, two strokes ahead of Paul Casey and Johnson, and managed to hold off a crowded field with some of the tournament’s most incredible shots.
His ball-striking ability and touch around the greens was phenomenal all week, and his 2.45 strokes gained putting on Sunday helped him shoot a 64. But it was the shot at 16, where he went on to make eagle, that sealed his fate.
In a sport where experience and “paying your dues” used to reign supreme, a new youth movement has taken hold. We saw it with the Jordan Spieth–Justin Thomas–Rickie Fowler crew, and now another generation is funneling in even faster than the last one. And while guys like Morikawa may not show their inexperience on the course, they can still make a gaffe every now and again.
Collin Morikawa finally made a mistake... pic.twitter.com/rqFi2EHAiD— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) August 10, 2020
There’s a New Crop of Young Guns at the Top
Morikawa was best of his class this weekend, but plenty of other guys got in on the mix. On Sunday, when 15-plus players seemed like they could come away with the win, most of the names on the leaderboard were relative newbies.
Haotong Li, who held the tournament’s 36-hole lead, and Xander Schauffele are basically the veterans of this group, given that they’ve been playing in majors since 2017. Then there’s Cam Champ, the long-driver who held a share of the lead late in his third-ever major appearance. Twenty-four-year-old Scottie Scheffler basically came out of nowhere (or, to be more specific, the Korn Ferry Tour) to finish tied for fourth. And Matthew Wolff, who’s giddy-up swing you might remember from May’s TaylorMade Driving Relief special, also earned a T-4 finish at just 21 years old. Coming into this weekend, Morikawa, Scheffler, and Wolff had two major appearances combined—and now they’ve all got top-five finishes.
Even Brooks Koepka had to give them kudos on Sunday. “[Morikawa’s] really good,” Koepka said. “You see these guys coming out of college now, they are ready to win. … I think of that group, him, Matt Wolff, Viktor Hovland, it’s impressive what they do. They came out of college and they’re ready to play out here.”
This group is only growing in confidence, and more names are coming. I haven’t even mentioned Jon Rahm, who feels like part of the Tour’s old guard but is still only 25, or Matthew Fitzpatrick, who had a tough showing this week but is perennially in the mix. This generation will be a lot of fun for a very long time, and the game is extremely lucky for it.
Brooks Is No Longer the Clutch Monster
You may not be able to out-troll a troll, but it turns out you can out-play one.
Brooks Koepka spent the first three days of the tournament playing at an elite level—he came into Sunday two shots back of the leader—and had the trash talk to match it. His first victim was a familiar one: Following Thursday’s round, Koepka told CBS, “There’s no reason to be scientific with all the numbers,” a thinly veiled shot at noted physics/math enthusiast Bryson DeChambeau. Then on Saturday, when asked how he felt going into the final round with a chance to win a third-straight PGA Championship, he went after Dustin Johnson and the rest of the leaderboard. “A lot of guys on the leaderboard I don’t think have won [a major],” Koepka said. “I guess DJ has only won one. I don’t know the other guys that are up there.”
Well, he found out pretty quickly. Brooks started Sunday with a bogey at no. 2. Then, as he dropped three shots between nos. 7 and 9, he watched as Morikawa, Champ, Scheffler, Tony Finau, Wolff, Schauffele, and yes, even DeChambeau, surged by him. Brooks finished the day four over par, 10 strokes behind Morikawa, and an afterthought for the CBS coverage of the round.
Coming into the week, if you had told me that Brooks would be within spitting distance of the leader on Sunday, I would have sent my life savings to Vegas and bet it all on him to win. That’s what he’s done in four majors in the last three years, after all, and even in the ones he couldn’t close out—like the 2019 Masters and U.S. Open—he was in the hunt until the end. Whether Sunday’s issues were caused by something physical—his trainer walked with him over the weekend and could be seen stretching him out multiple times on the course—or something mental, this was a rare lapse from Brooks. And I don’t think he’ll be talking shit about anyone but himself, at least for the next few days.
Fanless Golf Is a Big Deal—or It’s Not, Depending on Who You Ask
The PGA Tour has been operating without fans on the courses for the past two months now, and this weekend was the first fanless major. Naturally this was a big talking point for the golfers throughout the weekend, and while some said they noticed the absence, others didn’t feel as much of an effect.
While visiting the booth on Saturday (more on this below), Phil Mickelson said he gets into his own world in major championships and tries to tune out the fans anyway—so he didn’t notice a difference. Others noted that it was more difficult to manufacture the energy and momentum necessary to compete without fans there to draw from. Casey said that while he missed having the fans out there, this environment likely helped him turn in the solid Sunday round that he did.
Morikawa, for his part, seemed immune to any pressure over the weekend, and it’s difficult to say whether that calculus would have changed with fans or not. Certainly no one had to deal with Tiger roars or tamped down lies or mashed potato references (OK, there still might have been one), but the tournament also felt a bit lacking without those elements. It will be interesting to see what kind of traffic jam there is at the top of September’s U.S. Open leaderboard. Does “no fans” mean “no favorites”?
Tiger Has Some Work to Do
Tiger came into the PGA Championship having played just once in the past five months, and it showed. He started off strong on Thursday, finishing two under on the day, but across Friday and Saturday’s rounds, he couldn’t buy a made putt. He finished two over both days, but it easily could have been more, and he looked drained and frustrated after nearly every shot he hit.
He turned things around some on Sunday, finishing three under for the day to bring his tournament total to red figures. Needless to say, he’ll have to play a bit more before he can be considered a threat at Winged Foot.
Phil Mickelson Should Be a Permanent Member of the CBS Team
One off-course highlight from this weekend came Saturday afternoon when Phil Mickelson stepped into the CBS booth and joined Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo. Phil has always been a genial guy with plenty of stories and jokes to tell, and he started off his appearance on a high note.
Phil Mickelson: "There are three things I do well: Play golf and talk golf."— Sean Zak (@Sean_Zak) August 8, 2020
Faldo: "What's the third then?"
Nantz: "He set you up." pic.twitter.com/1dnjVeVyS7
Things only got better from there. Phil proceeded to not only analyze the course as only someone who’s played it can, but to also send plenty of stray shots Faldo’s way. If TV executives are smart, they’ll be backing up the Brink’s trucks for Phil as soon as he retires. Well, every company but Golf Channel. I’m not sure if Bones is quite ready for a reunion.