One can only wonder what Collin Morikawa’s record might have looked like had he not appreciated the value of education. His arrival in the professional golfing ranks was delayed by four years as he completed a business administration degree at the University of California.
In making up for lost time Morikawa has now won two major championships in eight starts. He is in danger of depressing the rest of us, given this illustrious CV at the age of 24. Edmund Hillary was 33 when he planted his flag atop Everest.
Morikawa is the only man to claim both the US PGA and Open Championships on his debut. The scale of his achievement is further underlined by the fact that only two players in the last century have added a second major in quicker time. Walter Hagen won 11 in total, Gene Sarazen seven, going on to complete the career grand slam. Morikawa insists he is not a great student of golf history, which for now at least feels a great shame.
He sealed victory in the Open’s 149th edition, under blazing Kent sunshine, at 15 under par and by two shots from Jordan Spieth. The victor did not drop a single shot during his final round of 66. Some claimed Morikawa’s 2020 PGA Championship victory at Harding Park last August was facilitated by a lack of crowds. That the Californian marched to victory in Sandwich in front of 32,000 belies that myth. In his short time as a professional Morikawa had already become known as arguably the game’s finest iron player. No flag position is safe. At this Open he discovered a formidable putting touch.
Spieth matched Morikawa’s Sunday total. The 2017 Open champion will lose sleep over dropped shots on the 17th and 18th as shadows lengthened at the conclusion of his third round. He was, characteristically, effusive about Morikawa.
“Clearly, with the shots he’s hit and the putts he’s holed, he’s not afraid of high-pressure situations and winning a major championship,” Spieth said. “I think winning one [major] can happen to a lot of people playing really good golf in one week. Winning two, three or more? He has obviously proven that this stage is where he wants to be.”
With Morikawa alongside Louis Oosthuizen, the first half-dozen Sunday holes were remarkable by virtue of being unremarkable. Morikawa reeled off six pars. Oosthuizen dropped a shot at the 4th, to leave the pair in a tie at 11 under. Spieth, at this stage, was well adrift.
The 7th provided pivotal moments. Oosthuizen sclaffed his way between bunkers, leading to a bogey six. Morikawa, in cold-blooded fashion, responded with a birdie. Suddenly he led by two. Morikawa picked up further shots at the 8th and 9th, with his front half of 32 outscoring Oosthuizen by five.
Spieth, as is customary with him, refused to throw in the towel. Birdies at the 9th, 10th, 13th and 14th meant he was Morikawa’s nearest challenger. Morikawa showed the composure of a champion by saving par from dicey situations at the 15th and 16th. A birdie at the par-five 14th had provided Morikawa with breathing space.
He duly took to the 72nd hole knowing five shots were sufficient for victory. He needed only a par four. His coolness under what presumably was immense pressure was remarkable. Golf should benefit, too, from the continued emergence of a young and marketable star. The R&A is due immense credit for the delivery of this, a terrific and essentially “normal” major championship.
A closing 66 for Jon Rahm meant he finished third, alongside Oosthuizen, at 11 under. The latter skipped media duties following his 71, which was forgivable. Oosthuizen has fallen short in majors more times than can surely be healthy for the psychology of a golfer. Rahm was more chatty.
“I’m still going to smile because I gave it my all,” the Spaniard said. “Finished really, really strong and gave myself the best chance I could.”
Dylan Frittelli was fifth at nine under. The South African will rue a double bogey at the 11th.
Long before presentation of the Claret Jug, Brooks Koepka had raced through the field courtesy of a 65. The 72 on Saturday essentially cost him at least a hope of winning a fifth major; his other three rounds totalled 10 under par. “This was definitely a missed opportunity,” he admitted.
“I didn’t play well enough on Saturday. It doesn’t really matter what I finished today, I didn’t have a chance to win and that’s disappointing. I like when everything is on the line. I like when the most pressure is on. I enjoy that. I think it’s fun.”
Koepka’s eight under meant a tie of sixth with Mackenzie Hughes. Scotland’s Bob MacIntyre gave his Ryder Cup chances a major boost by closing with a 67 for a share of eighth at minus seven. MacIntyre, who survived the halfway cut by one, had Daniel Berger, Dustin Johnson and Scottie Scheffler for company. British galleries should enjoy glimpses of MacIntyre while they last; the trajectory of his career means he will inevitably be a regular on the PGA Tour before long.
Shane Lowry’s Open defence closed with a second 69 in succession. Lowry finished tied 12th alongside Corey Conners, Emiliano Grillo and Viktor Hovland.
Matthias Schmid won the silver medal as the low amateur. The 23-year-old was, therefore, worthy of his place alongside Morikawa during the presentation ceremony.
Morikawa could barely stop smiling, and no wonder. His is a sporting storyline which is on track to touch greatness.