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Where Does Collin Morikawa Rank Among the Greatest 25-And-Under Golfers In History?

A closer look at how Collin Morikawa's early career compares to that of Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Gene Sarazen and other great golfers before they turned 26.
Among the all-time 25-and-unders: Jordan Spieth, Collin Morikawa and Tiger Woods.

Among the all-time 25-and-unders: Jordan Spieth, Collin Morikawa and Tiger Woods.

Fresh off his victory at the Open at Royal St. George’s and narrowly missing a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics, it’s a good time to place Collin Morikawa’s early career in the proper historical perspective.

How does Morikawa, at 24, stack up against young phenoms from the past? For this exercise, we’ll use 25 years old as an arbitrary cutoff. Multiple major championships are required as an entry fee for the historical contestants.

Majors mean more than tour wins, on a weighted basis, but we’ll factor in Amateur titles and European Tour wins while attempting to compare victories across generations and eras. Beyond the quantifiable data, we’ll include subjective thoughts, which include the “wow” factor.

Let’s start with a closer look at Morikawa.

He’s 5’9”, 160 lbs. Physically an everyman and not a bomber of the golf ball; he averages less than 300 yards off the tree, good for 114th on Tour this year as of this writing.

Related: Collin Morikawa is Proof That the Power Game Isn't The Only Way to Win

But he is straight: 13th in driving accuracy and No. 1 with a bullet in greens in regulation while hitting a gaudy 72 percent of his greens. Naturally, with so many chances, he leads the Tour in birdie average and ranks 4th in scoring average.

Morikawa also ranks first on Tour in both tee-to-green and approach shots. His superiority on approaches only strengthens as he moves farther from the hole: he’s No. 1 on approaches from 125-150 yards and second from 150-175 and 175-200. Inside 125 yards he’s no better than 40th, and he’s not a superior scrambler in the rare instances when he does miss an approach.

On the green, he’s outside the top 100 in strokes gained putting, total putting, overall putting average and one-putt percentage. So, the weakness in his game is obvious.

Add it up, and the book on Morikawa is that he does not overpower courses, nor does he ride his putter to victory on a regular basis. What he does is hit laser tee shots and pure irons. He is precision personified. And he has risen to No. 2 in the current World Ranking.

Now to history’s other stars before they turned 26. By the numbers:

Top U.S. Golfers Age 25 and Under

Collin Morikawa: Five Tour wins, two majors. Terrific amateur career, but never won the U.S Amateur.

Jordan Spieth: Eleven Tour wins, three majors. Spieth’s performance as a young man jumps off the pages of history. Incredible stuff. He won his last major in 2017 and today he is still just 27 years old. Like Morikawa, Spieth is not a bomber. Unlike Morikawa, Spieth is not particularly accurate off the tee. But he’s in the same elite class with his irons, and Spieth is a superior scrambler and a peerless putter. When his putter was on from 2014-2016, he was the baddest man on the planet.

Tiger Woods: Twenty-nine Tour wins, six majors. His dominance at a young age is well-documented, and he never let his foot off the gas for many years, en route to 15 majors and 82 Tour victories. In addition to his majors, he also won three consecutive U. S. Amateurs before turning pro.

Jack Nicklaus: Eight Tour wins, three majors, two U.S. Amateurs. Dominant early, dominant in middle years and eventually a force in his 40s. Finished with 18 majors wins, 19 major-championship runners-up and 73 Tour wins. The benchmark against whom all are measured.

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Gene Sarazen: The ex-caddie who would eventually complete a career Slam won three of his seven career majors before age 25. He eventually finished with 38 Tour wins. That the Squire played in the 1920s and 30s should be no impediment to consideration. He was a star.

John McDermott: Seven Tour wins, two majors. McDermott, a tragic figure who was committed to mental hospitals for the remainder of his life starting in 1914 at age 23, was the America’s first real golf superstar. He was the first American winner of the US Open, in 1911 at age 19 (and the youngest winner ever), and he won it again in 1912. Francis Ouimet’s win in 1913 is more famous, but McDermott was in fact the American pioneer on the world stage. In 1913 and 1914 he was 8th and T9, respectively, in the U.S. Open, right before he was committed. He finished T5 in his only British Open in 1913. He is long forgotten, but few achieved so much so early.

Bobby Jones: Five majors. He reached the quarters of the US Amateur at age 14. Jones is a special case because he played his entire career as an amateur. He won three professional majors and two U.S. Amateurs (considered majors back then) by 25. He finished with seven U.S. and British Opens and six U.S. and British Amateurs, or 13 total majors before retiring from competitive golf at 28 (and thereafter founding Augusta National).

How dominant was Jones? From 1923 , when he was 21, to 1930, Jones played in 21 national championships and won 13 of them. As an amateur, he had just two chances per year at professional majors, the British and U.S. Opens. In his last 12 open championships (British and U.S.) Jones won seven times and finished second four times.

And the man played only three months a year - the rest of his time was spent acquiring various university degrees, like mechanical engineering, English and law.

Top European Golfers Age 25 and Under

Young Tom Morris: Four majors by age 21. Died at 24. Youngest majors winner (age 17). Held the course record at St. Andrews for 20 years. Won two of his Opens by 11 and 12 strokes, respectively. Total domination.

Seve Ballesteros: Three PGA Tour wins, 15 European Tour wins, two majors. Ballesteros would end up winning a record 50 European Tour titles. At 19 he stylishly announced his presence with a runner-up at the British Open. He won at least one European Tour title for 17 consecutive years between 1976 and 1992. He would finish with 5 majors, and he remains as significant a Ryder Cup competitor as ever lived. He was also more charismatic than any player since, and perhaps only Hagen before him. An artist, a gamesmanship practitioner and uber-talented.

Rory McIlroy: Five Tour wins, two majors before 25, with four more Tour wins and two more majors within a couple months of turning 25. He also had five European wins (and another four within months of turning 25). Before 24 he was the youngest player to reach $10 million in PGA Tour winnings. Has he lived up to the weight of his early success? Not so much -- at 32 he is 0 for his last seven years in majors.

But, along with Tiger and Jack, he is one of the three players to win four majors by 25 (strictly speaking, his last two were at 25 plus a couple months - close enough for government work).

A sad omission: Slammin Sammy Snead. Six Tour wins by 24, eight more by 25. But a late start in majors, and none anywhere close to the age of 25. Like his peer Ben Hogan, he won a chunk of majors but later in his career.

Final Verdict: Who Is the Best 25-and-Under Player Ever?

So where does all this leave Morikawa today? He is already much admired, and clearly has enjoyed great success. And you can count on about two hands the number of players who have won two majors by 25. Heady stuff.

But is he feared? He doesn’t have the “wow” or “it” factor compared to many the others examined here -- I think he is much more respected than feared, a contrast with the “wow” associated with Woods, Spieth, McIlroy and Nicklaus at comparative ages. Morikawa lacks Spieth’s swagger, Woods’ aura of invincibility, Nicklaus’ dominance and McIlroy’s audacity.

Quick story: in 2000, when Woods was 24, Sports Illustrated took over Madison Square Garden to honor “The Greatest Athletes of the 20th Century.” We all watched in astonishment as the show opened with Woods walking across the stage bouncing a ball on his wedge. The place went nuts.

Morikawa is not ready to fill up MSG. He's not larger than life like Seve. No one will nominate him as the golfer in the golden age of sports as Bobby Jones was.

But after five Tour wins and two majors, Morikawa has earned a place in the discussion about history’s greatest young players, and there is no shame in his being perhaps not as great -- at least, not yet -- as several others listed above.

And who are the best 25-and-unders of all time? One has to give a tip of the hat to Woods, Spieth, Nicklaus, McIlroy and Bobby Jones. The next tier could include McDermott, Seve and Sarazen. Does Morikawa compare favorably to that threesome? He’s in the discussion but it says here he isn’t quite there yet.

Let us close with a note about Young Tom Morris. Our recency bias makes it tough to properly categorize him, and there were no tours back then. But as a man of his time, he was head and shoulders above the rest, perhaps as few, if any, others have been in history.