The saying goes that you never forget your first: first kiss, first love, and in Collin Morikawa’s case, his first time at major championships.
The 24-year-old came into the week at Royal St. George’s having never played in an Open Championship. He hardly even had any experience with links golf—Morikawa teed it up at the Scottish Open the week before to get his first taste overseas in hopes that the knowledge he gained in those four rounds would be enough to propel him in the final major of the year. But none of that mattered.
Playing alongside 54-hole leader Louis Oosthuizen, who had led wire to wire in the final group Sunday, Morikawa looked like the old pro despite being 14 years younger. While Oosthuizen fumbled his way through the front nine, making the turn in two-over par, Morikawa surged forward. He made birdies on nos. 7, 8, and 9, then successfully scrambled for par at the 10th after what ended up being his lone mistake of the round. Morikawa took advantage of every makeable putt he had, finishing the day with four birdies and the weekend with zero three-putts. And most impressively, he looked unflappable through it all. He kept his scorecard clean on Sunday (and recorded just four total bogeys over the weekend) and went on to finish 15-under par to win the 149th Open Championship—his second major championship victory in just eight attempts and his second major victory in a debut event.
“This is by far one of the best moments of my life,” a beaming Morikawa said after the win. “To be called an Open Championship winner … it gives me chills. It’s giving me chills right now.”
Morikawa was so dominant in the final round that his win almost felt preordained. Even NBC analyst Paul Azinger said “sometimes it’s just meant to be” after Morikawa hit a perfect drive in between four bunkers on the 15th hole. But it was really anything but.
Yes, Morikawa is the best irons player in the world at present, and good ball strikers will always have a massive advantage at the Open. But coming into this weekend, Morikawa’s irons were mysteriously failing him. He finished tied for 71st at the Scottish Open last week, and after that poor showing, Morikawa changed his 7-, 8-, and 9-irons ahead of the Open. The 8-iron is Morikawa’s self-professed favorite club, so a shift like that ahead of such an important tournament seemed like a potential disaster waiting to happen. Instead, it was what fueled him.
“I wouldn’t be here through these two rounds if I hadn’t played last week at the Scottish,” Morikawa said Friday. “I’ve played in firm conditions. I can think of places I’ve played in tighter, drier conditions. But just having fescue fairways and the ball sitting a little different was huge to see last week.”
Then there’s the fact that—much like his win at the 2020 PGA Championship—Morikawa had to fend off an exceptional leaderboard to earn this victory. At the PGA, seven golfers finished within three shots of Morikawa, including Paul Casey, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, and Bryson DeChambeau. At the Open, it was Oosthuizen (who’s been a force to be reckoned with at nearly every major this year), along with Jordan Spieth, reigning U.S. Open winner Jon Rahm, and Brooks Koepka.
Even with that group breathing down his neck and an unfamiliar type of course laid out ahead of him, Morikawa never waivered. He hit perfect shot after perfect shot, sunk important putt after important putt, and finished the back nine with a level of focus and intensity that Azinger likened to the one and only Tiger Woods.
“I had to tell myself midway through the round, when I started making birdies, just to focus on each shot,” Morikawa said. “Just make sure I’m committed over every shot—that was the goal of every day so far, and I had to stick to it. I knew I put myself in a good position with nine holes left, but there were still nine holes. And I had to hit shot after shot and try and pull it off.”
Oosthuizen came into the day with a one-shot lead and the steadiest hands all week, but Spieth ended up being Morikawa’s fiercest competition. The 27-year-old, who won in inspiring fashion at the 2017 Open at Royal Birkdale, is a links superstar. His superb iron play makes him a threat at any Open, and with his putting as locked in as it was this weekend, it was no surprise he was in the mix at the end. But as is too often the case with Spieth, unforced errors made his life a lot harder than it had to be.
Back-to-back bogeys at 17 and 18 on Saturday dropped him to 9-under par and three shots back of Oosthuizen, and bogeys at 4 and 6 on Sunday further hampered his chances of catching the final group (though he would get both of those strokes back with an eagle at no. 7).
Spieth said after the round that this was the first major this year that he really felt he had enough to win. But the difference between him and Morikawa this weekend was consistency—even if Morikawa ludicrously insisted he could have played even better.
“Execution was a little iffy,” Morikawa said after his Sunday round, “but I knew there was going to be troubles. You’re going to hit some bad shots, and sometimes you put them in the worst spots. But I was able to get a way out of it and make some crucial putts. … They came in the moment I needed them.”
Morikawa has now entered rarified air—both on Tour and in the record books. According to golf writer and statistician Justin Ray, Morikawa is now the first player to win two different major championships in his debut tournaments; he’s the second to win both the PGA and Open Championships before the age of 25 (Woods was the first); and he has the fewest major starts needed to win twice since Bobby Jones won his second major in 1926.
When a player wins the Open, they’re given the title “Champion Golfer of the Year.” For some, that honor doesn’t really fit—apologies to Todd Hamilton, who won in 2004, and Paul Lawrie who took the honor after Jean van de Velde’s meltdown in 1999. But if we’re counting the past 12 months as the last year, there’s probably no golfer more worthy of that title than Morikawa. And judging by his play this weekend, it probably won’t be the last time he earns it.