Undoubtedly, we will never again see the likes of a major championship schedule that was forced by a pandemic to be cobbled together to save a golf season. Seven majors in 11 months packed two years’ worth of drama, redemption and majesty into less than one. Ranking the seven majors might seem more a fool’s errand than a worthy exercise but here is simply one opinion. Let the argument commence:
7. 2020 Masters
It’s the one major championship that, on paper, should be as tailored for Dustin Johnson as a size 42-long green jacket. With the tools in his belt, he ought to win every year. Except, it’s never that simple and the Masters has spent many years eluding Johnson and his immense talent. Never mind that what is normally the year’s first major was 2020’s third. It was, in many ways, an upside-down year for everyone. And don’t discount that Augusta National played much softer and slower in November than it usually does in April. They still presented a green jacket at the end and Johnson was a worthy recipient. If it’s Johnson’s only one, it will be a crime and a blessing at the same time.
6. 2021 Masters
Japan reveres its golf heroes, some say to excess. The result is the practically unbearable weight of unrealistic expectations. Hideki Matsuyama is an old 29 from having to drag around that kind of baggage. From Jumbo Ozaki to Isao Aoki to Tommy Nakajima to the flamed-out young Ryo Ishikawa, Matsuyama carried a country on his shoulders wherever he went. With five victories, he was the most successful Japanese player ever on the PGA Tour. But no Japanese male had ever won a major championship. Matsuyama’s Masters victory lifted a nation and gave him a deserved place in history. And his caddie bowed reverently to the flagstick on the 18th green after the tournament, which should tell you all you need to know about this event’s depth of meaning.
5. 2020 PGA Championship
Just as he did at the British Open, Morikawa won at TPC Harding Park last August in his PGA Championship debut. No one had any doubt that Morikawa was one of the best young players to come onto the PGA Tour in a while. He had two victories and was a lipped-out three-footer away from a third when he entered the PGA, considerably under the radar. A final-round 64 vaulted him past the likes of Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Paul Casey and a host of other contenders. And it included the shot of the year when Morikawa drove the green at the par-4 16th to 7 feet and holed the putt for an eagle that put him on the bullet train to stardom.
4. 2020 U.S. Open
When someone comes along and threatens to fundamentally change the way the game is played, he is bound to cause emotional responses from those who play, those who make the rules and those who opine. Bryson DeChambeau, if nothing else, elicits those reactions. His six-shot victory at Winged Foot last September stood the golf world on its collective ear when he simply drove it as far as he could as often as he could, rough be damned. People were afraid he had broken the game with his strength and length. It hasn’t happened and it won’t. DeChambeau must decide if he needs to make some fundamental changes to the way he plays to prevent that Open victory from being a mere outlier.
3. 2021 U.S. Open
If you believe in karma, and Jon Rahm does, then his victory at Torrey Pines in June aligns with the forces that control such things. Two weeks before, he lost a six-shot lead after 54 holes with a positive COVID-19 test that forced him out of the Memorial Tournament. Many believe that Rahm could be the game’s next dominant player, if he can control his emotions – he can also get a little angry if asked about it. Nevertheless, most observers are certain that his first major title won’t be his last and the next one is bound to come sooner than later.
2. 2021 British Open
At 24 years old with two major championship trophies – in 11 months – Morikawa became what the game always embraces – a legitimate star. As he won an Open on a links course in his first try, there might be the inclination to compare Morikawa’s success to that of Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth at a similar age. But Morikawa is a better ball-striker than Spieth and far and away a better putter than McIlroy. And he’s much superior mentally than either at the moment. Hope that he will have the discipline to resist the temptations of other major champions before him to make changes for the sake of “getting better” and risk losing what got him here.
1. 2021 PGA Championship
Rarely is history made, especially at major championships, so when Phil Mickelson was swept up by a crowd that was nearly beyond control on the 72nd hole at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, everyone — especially Mickelson — knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime moment. By becoming at age 50, the oldest major champion ever, Mickelson proved that the ball really doesn’t know how old you are and that to win one of these, talent alone is insufficient. Nearly perfect mental control is the key that unlocks the major door. While Mickelson might not ever do this again, he further opened the portal to the possible.