The only mistake Collin Morikawa made Sunday came well after he outdueled the world’s best to win the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park and etch his name into golf history in the process.
The 23-year-old star stood on the 18th green and lifted the Wanamaker Trophy high over his head, sending the topper flying off the body of the trophy and onto the firm grass that had served as a stiff test for the world’s best.
The topper was placed back on top of the trophy as the Cal product laughed, fully soaking in his major moment.
No harm, no foul.
Such was the case throughout Morikawa’s final round Sunday in which he fired a dazzling 6-under-par 64 to claim the year’s first major at 13-under-par, two shots ahead of Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey.
Fifteen months ago, Morikawa was at Cal’s commencement ceremony in Berkeley. Now, after winning in only his second major start, the No. 5 ranked golfer in the world has officially joined the ranks of golf’s upper echelon.
“I’m on Cloud Nine right now,” Morikawa said after securing his first career major title. “It’s hard to think about what this championship means, and obviously, it’s a major, and this is what guys go for, especially at the end of their career, and we’re just starting. So, I think this is just a lot of confidence, a lot of momentum, and it just gives me a little taste of what’s to come. I got a taste of this now.”
Morikawa entered the final round at TPC Harding Park at 7-under-par, two shots back of 54-hole leader Dustin Johnson. There 12 players, including Brooks Koepka, Jason Day, Justin Rose, Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau, who were within three shots of the lead when play began.
Major championship golf is a pressure cooker made to chew up and spit out those with the faintest hint of doubt. Many might have expected Morikawa, experiencing his first major Sunday in contention to go away early.
He faced trouble on the first when his approach shot spun back into the bunker giving him a tough up-and-down to remain at 7-under. But calm and steady, Morikawa pitched out to 23 feet and drained a bomb to save par.
After birdies at No. 3 and No. 4, Morikawa made another massive 26-foot putt to save par on No. 6. Major championships often are won not by crazy birdie barrages, but by round-saving and, in this case, title-saving pars.
Such was the case Sunday.
Morikawa made the turn at 2-under for the day and birdied No. 10 to jump into a tie for the lead.
As the tension ratcheted up down the stretch, it looked like the young star succumbed to the pressure when he left his approach shot at the Par-4 14th hole short, giving him a tricky up-and-down from 54 feet away.
But he didn’t buckle or bend. There were no nerves. Just a steely resolve.
Morikawa landed his chip on the fringe, it hopped once and slid into the bottom of the cup for a birdie three that gave him the lead by one with four to play.
A month ago, Morikawa stormed back to beat Justin Thomas at the Workday Charity Open at Muirfield Village. During that closing stretch, he drove the green on the short Par-4 14th hole, setting up a key birdie.
Sunday, he stood on the tee at TPC Harding Park’s drivable Par-4 16th hole tied for the lead after Paul Casey made birdie right in front of him.
With 278 yards to the front of the green and the Wanamaker Trophy in his sights, Morikawa pulled driver.
The shot fit his eye perfectly as he unleashed a mighty lash that sent his major hopes soaring through the thick San Francisco air. Had fans been in attendance the roar would have shaken the Earth as the ball landed in front of the green, bounced twice and rolled to seven feet, giving Morikawa a look at eagle.
As if he’d been there before, Morikawa stepped over the putt and sent it into the bottom of the cup, etching his name on the Wanamaker Trophy in a moment that will go down as one of the shots that defines this storied championship.
“I actually did,” Morikawa told CBS’ Jim Nantz when asked if he channeled the shot he hit at Muirfield on 16. “You know, 14 at Muirfield is pretty special and my caddie looked at me after I hit my shot on 16 and asked me the same exact question. It just fit my eye and we were just hoping for a really good bounce, we got it, made a good putt and now we’re here.”
The California cypress trees and Lake Merced were the perfect backdrop for Morikawa’s major coronation, serving as the theatre in which his meteoric rise from talented amateur to golf’s next star was completed.
With the win, Morikawa joined Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy as the only players to lift the Wanamaker Trophy before age 24, and he was just the fourth player since 1934 to win a major in his second start.
Morikawa joined golf’s elite class in an area that he holds close to his heart, penning what looks to be the first of many chapters in the story he always felt he was destined to star in.
“Yeah, I feel very comfortable in this spot,” Morikawa said after hoisting the Wanamaker. “When I woke up today, I was like, this is meant to be. This is where I feel very comfortable. This is where I want to be, and I’m not scared from it. I think if I was scared from it, the last few holes would have been a little different, but you want to be in this position.
“And for me, like you said, like I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t stop here. I’ve got a very good taste of what this is like, what a major championship is like.”
Collin Morikawa’s PGA Championship win completes meteoric rise to stardom originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area