It was thirteen months in the making.
What transpired on Sunday in San Francisco is exactly what we’ve missed from the game of golf — storylines — endless storylines developing on the final day of a major championship.
At one point on Sunday night, six players shared the lead at the PGA Championship with a half a round to go.
A pair of major champions looking for number two. A journeyman in search of his major breakthrough and a group of young guns looking to announce “Here I am world.”
All this while the two-time defending PGA Champion was eating his words and crumbling into Lake Merced.
Storylines? Sunday at TPC Harding Park had it all.
In the end, it was 23-year old Collin Morikawa who cradled the Wanamaker Trophy. Morikawa secured his third career victory and first major title with a blistering back nine 31 on his way to a 6-under par 64 and a two-stroke victory over Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey.
While Sunday confirmed Morikawa’s place as one of the top players in the world, we may have learned more about the state of the game as a whole, and more importantly, where it is heading.
Here are a few key takeaways from a thrilling finish at the PGA Championship.
Morikawa wins with precision
“I know I can win on Tour right now.” That’s what then 22-year old Collin Morikawa told me back in June of 2019. At the time he was a three-weeks out of college. Three weeks later he was a winner. Fourteen months after that, he’s a major champion.
At just 23 years old, Morikawa is actually an old soul. As a freshman at Cal, he lost in a playoff on the Web.com Tour while playing as an amateur. As a junior and senior in college, he was peppered with the same question: “When are you going to turn pro?” Morikawa never wavered. He stuck to his plan — to stay four years at Berkeley, graduate and earn his business degree.
Sticking to his plan — it’s exactly what helped him become the third-youngest winner of the PGA Championship since World War II. Only Rory McIlroy and Jack Nicklaus have hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy at a younger age.
The plan was simple. In a day and age when distance has dominated the conversation, Morikawa relied on precision. He led the field in driving accuracy and strokes gained putting. Drive for show and putt for dough? Morikawa did both.
Case in point: Morikawa’s defining moment. On the 294-yard par 4 16th hole, Morikawa pulled out his TaylorMade SIM driver and unleashed a laser that never left the pin. Coming to rest just 7-feet from the hole, Morikawa calmly rolled in the eagle putt, and never looked back.
Young studs will be heard from again
At one point on the back nine Sunday, four players under the age of 25 were either tied for or within 1 shot of the lead. While Morikawa eventually charged ahead to win the Wanamaker Trophy, you’ve got to admire the moxie that golf’s other young studs showed on Sunday.
While names like Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka and Jordan Spieth have been the lifeblood of the PGA Tour the last five years, it is players like Morikawa, Cameron Champ, Matthew Wolff and Scottie Scheffler that represent the future. Three of the four players won their first Tour event before their 10th professional start. Champ and Morikawa already have multiple career victories, while Scheffler — well, it certainly won’t take long for the kid from Texas to hop into the winner’s circle.
Along with length off the tee, sharp ball striking and fearless putting, all four players have a key quality that played them into contention this weekend — they don’t just believe they can win — they know it.
Wolff showed the fearless confidence it takes to contend in the game’s biggest events. A final round 65, complete with a birdie on the 72nd hole, and Wolff was the leader in the clubhouse with 90 minutes to play.
Champ is the longest player on tour and led the tournament in driving distance while Scheffler plays like he doesn’t give a damn — a good quality in golf. This quartet will be heard from again, and likely for many years to come.
Expect to see more of Tiger Woods
Looking back, it was wishful thinking to expect Tiger Woods to contend at the year’s first major championship. Woods put together a valiant effort on Sunday with a 3-under par 67 to finish T-37, but his game overall was up and down over four days in San Francisco. The 1-under par total was 12 strokes behind Morikawa and showed that Woods certainly could have used a lot more reps heading into TPC Harding Park.
Woods has practiced a ton over the last five months but had played just one tournament since February. That lack of competition and need to feel the pressure that comes with it, was something the 15-time major champion talked about a lot this week.
Woods will now take a week off before gearing up for the FedEx Cup Playoffs and hinted that we could see much more of him, prior to next month’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
“That's potentially what could happen, and we've been training for that,” said Woods who hit just 55% of his greens in regulation on Sunday. “Trying to get my strength and endurance up to that ability to making sure that I can handle that type of workload.”
That workload, of both training and tournament play, will have to be kicked up a notch if Woods wants to try and notch major number sixteen before the end of 2020.
Disappointing week for Rory McIlroy
McIlroy’s talent level is not debatable. When playing his best, McIlroy is arguably the most gifted player in golf, but what we saw this week at the PGA Championship was not only disappointing, it was concerning. McIlroy was expected to contend this week in San Francisco, but after a T-33 finish, McIlroy's major-less drought has now reached six years and counting.
More than any other player on tour, McIlroy has been negatively affected by the coronavirus pandemic pause to the golf season. Prior to the suspension of play in March, McIlroy had six consecutive top-five showings including a WGC win. Since the season restart, he hasn’t generated a single top-ten finish over six tournaments.
When asked about his struggles to contend in majors over the last few years, McIlroy gave a glimpse into his mindset.
“Maybe I'm just not as good as I used to be. I don't know,” said McIlroy who struggled with his driver all week hitting just 44% of his fairways.
“I really don't know. I feel like the golf that I've played in the majors has been sort of similar to the golf I've played outside of them, and I've won some big events and played well and had a good season last season. I can't really put my finger on it.”