The 102nd PGA Championship ushered back sports in a major way. When Collin Morikawa hoisted the Wanamaker trophy as dusk dusted TPC Harding Park Sunday evening, it was a triumph for him, the PGA of America and sports fans everywhere after an enormously entertaining final round. While Covid-19 still lurks, this championship, which was moved from May to now, was a major step toward normalcy. There were no spectators, but the millions who watched on TV and through live streaming were treated to brilliant golf as nearly a dozen players had a chance to win until Morikawa hit one of the greatest shots in the history of golf.
At one point on the back nine, seven players were tied for the lead. But on No. 16 – playing at 295 yards in the final round – Morikawa, in the penultimate group, hit a lovely controlled fade to seven feet and rolled in the putt for eagle to take a three-stroke lead.
His closing 64 was immaculate — four birdies, no bogeys and that eagle – as was his play all week. He led the field in fairways hit, proximity to the pin and strokes gained putting. That’s simply an unbeatable combination.
All those remote spectators also saw in Harding Park a public golf course that proved its major championship pedigree and was presented in spectacular fashion — proving to be demanding but fair. That No. 16 – a drivable par-4 – played such a key role in the outcome spoke volumes about the brilliance of the course set-up all week.
This PGA Championship was among the first major titles awarded in sports as the games we love cautiously return. While the absence of spectators and the presence of masks, elbow bumps and social distancing had a new feel to it, the intensity of the competition brought a familiarity that made this championship feel like the return of a long-lost friend.
By winning at the age of 23, Morikawa joined Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy as the last three players to win their first PGA Championship at that age. That’s pretty heady company that has won a combined 11 PGA Championships.
“I’m on Cloud Nine right now,” Morikawa said after the final putt was holed. “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 the their career, and we’re just starting.”
Morikawa, who is from Los Angeles and played college golf at Cal-Berkeley, just across the bay from Harding Park, burst on the PGA Tour by making the cut in his first 22 events. He now has three PGA Tour victories in the last 13 months, this one coming in only his second major and first PGA Championship.
“It’s been a life goal,” he said. “Obviously as a little kid, kind of watching everyone grow up, all these professionals, and this is always what I’ve wanted to do.”
Dustin Johnson started the final round with a one-stroke lead over Scottie Scheffler and Cameron Champ. Two back were Morikawa, Paul Casey and Brooks Koepka, who was looking to win his third consecutive PGA Championship.
Casey, who with 64 starts in majors without a victory has the longest active streak, finished second at 11-under-par 269 along with Johnson.
Matthew Wolff, Jason Day, Tony Finau, Bryson DeChambeau and Scheffler were at 270 with Justin Rose at 271 followed by Xander Schauffele, Joel Dahmen and Champ at 272. Koepke closed with a 74 and finished at 277.
The display they put on was riveting. When Wolff, in his first major, made eagle on No. 10 it meant he had played his last four holes five under par to get to nine under par.
When the final twosome of Johnson and Scheffler made the turn, there were 12 players within two strokes of the lead. This was, quite simply, golf at its best.
Morikawa, who pitched in from 55 feet on No. 14 for a birdie that gave him the lead alone at 11 under par, just got better as the stakes got higher.
“Yeah, 14 was huge,” he said. “My caddie J.J. told me, ‘let’s chip it in,’ and that was the momentum I needed. We got to 16. He asked me what I wanted to do. I’m sure it was a split between hitting iron and going for it. Why not hit a great driver? Why not hit that little left-to-right shot with the wind helping off the left?”
That’s exactly what he did.
At no point did the moment ever appear to be too great for him. Standing on the final tee with a two-stroke lead he drove 318 yards to the fairway, knocked it on the green and two-putted for the win. Simple as that.
“To close it out here at a course that I played a dozen times throughout college, it’s really special,” Morikawa said.
Everything about this final round was special; everything about the week was special.
When people look back on the first major golf championship after the pandemic, they will remember not just the return of the game at its highest levels. They will remember it being played at the highest level.