The future gets here in a hurry, doesn’t it?
Fifteen months ago, Collin Morikawa was finishing his senior year at the University of California and now he’s won the PGA Championship with a performance that feels like the start of something, well, major.
Morikawa is like a waterfall – it just keeps pouring out of him.
And who doesn’t marvel at a waterfall? They’re mesmerizing and soothing and so reassuringly reliable. Watching Morikawa is that way, playing the modern game with a classic touch, relying not so much on muscle but on talent, tenacity and a remarkably old head.
“Instant maturity,” is how Paul Casey described it.
Morikawa was already the envy of anyone who’s ever been asked to hit a 7-iron under pressure because he hits iron shots the way Billy Joel hits piano keys, and then he showed at TPC Harding Park that he’s just getting started.
“He’s a helluva player,” said Brooks Koepka, who’s known for blunt honesty. “He’s got a lot of upside.”
Imagine if you’re the 43-year old Casey, who played almost well enough to win, and you see Morikawa hit that 295-yard, baby-cut driver to within 12 feet of the hole at the driveable par-4 16th, setting up the eagle that clinched the win. For Casey, who came along when Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson did, it must feel like a cosmic joke that now there’s a 23-year old who’s done what he never has and who looks like he’s only going to get better.
“This is the one time I really wish there were crowds there.”
If you’re 24-year old Scottie Scheffler or 25-year old Cameron Champ, this PGA Championship was a rite of passage.
If you’re Dustin Johnson or Justin Rose or Jason Day, getting older just got tougher. If you’re No. 1 Justin Thomas or No. 2 Jon Rahm, staying there just got harder.
If you’re Koepka, you get a pass for one lousy major championship Sunday and if you’re Bryson DeChambeau, how many protein shakes would he trade for Morikawa’s mastery of course management?
If you’re Morikawa, it’s a third PGA Tour win in 27 pro starts, not to mention the lip-out playoff loss to Daniel Berger in the Charles Schwab Challenge two months ago. He now has as many major championship trophies as he has missed cuts in his professional career.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the moment, to fall in love with the newest and shiniest thing but it’s different with Morikawa. He arrived last year with Matthew Wolff and Viktor Hovland and they had a seismic impact on the PGA Tour, disrupting the scene immediately and transforming it over time.
Wolff, who had a chance to win Sunday, will have stretches of brilliance the way Johnny Miller did. Morikawa, it appears, will be more Dustin Johnson-like, not in how they play the game but in how they are seemingly always around, picking up victories the way some people pick up the groceries.
Morikawa led the field at Harding Park in fairways hit, proximity to the hole and strokes gained putting, a virtual holy trinity of golf stats. In a championship in which the top of the leaderboard was dominated by bombers, the guy who ranks 110th in driving distance on the PGA Tour won.
“He’s not going anywhere any time soon,” Tony Finau said. “This isn’t a guy who’s going to pop up and disappear for the next five years.”
For all that was missing at this PGA Championship, it was clear on Sunday that the pressure of finishing off a major championship was hanging heavy in the San Francisco air. Koepka flat didn’t have it when he needed it and Johnson looked like he knew exactly what was at stake and he never looked comfortable.
It was Finau, Scheffler, Casey and Morikawa who looked the most at ease in the final round. When the Wanamaker Trophy went looking for someone to keep it warm, Morikawa wrapped it up like a snuggie.
He won with two swings. The pitch-in for birdie at the tough par-4 14th, a nervy shot that was set up by a suggestion from his caddie, J.J. Jakovak, that he chip it in to get some momentum. Then there was the driver at 16 that was the shot of the championship.
Morikawa considered hitting an iron off the tee and trying to make a birdie the conventional way. Instead, he dreamed big.
“Those are the shots that you’ve got to take opportunities,” Morikawa said.
The only thing missing was a gallery of thousands, framing and providing a soundtrack to the moment.
“This is the one time I really wish there were crowds there,” Morikawa said.
What Morikawa heard was the sound of a few volunteers clapping and when he looked around a tree blocking his view of the 16th green, he saw where his tee shot had stopped.
Some players wait a lifetime for a moment that never comes. Sometimes the moment comes and they let it slip.
Morikawa’s moment arrived Sunday at the end of a chilly afternoon at Harding Park.
The future arrived right on schedule.