Golf ’s boy won­der

Young Amer­i­can wins US PGA

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By James Cor­ri­gan GOLF COR­RE­SPON­DENT

It has be­come a tra­di­tion in golf that when­ever a first-time ma­jor win­ner is crowned there is a stam­pede to is­sue gen­eral as­sur­ances that no, this cham­pion will not be a one-hit won­der. It is a gen­er­ous but gen­er­ally mis­placed leap of faith, as the sta­tis­tics high­light.

There have been 224 win­ners of the ma­jors in their 160-year ex­is­tence and 142 are sin­gle-time win­ners – al­most two-thirds. So those grand pro­nounce­ments in the wake of a golfer’s pri­mary glory are daft and should not be made un­der any cir­cum­stance. So here goes: bar­ring ill­ness or in­jury there is no way on God’s Earth that Collin Morikawa will not win an­other ma­jor. In fact, he will win at least three.

This is not merely an emo­tive re­sponse based on Sun­day’s ex­tra­or­di­nary events at Hard­ing Park, San Fran­cisco, where the Cal­i­for­nian played one of the most de­ci­sive US PGA Cham­pi­onship shots ever. This is based on his­tory.

Since 1960 – re­garded as the dawn of the mod­ern ma­jor era when Arnold Palmer trav­elled across for the Open and the Amer­i­cans largely recog­nised the grand slam cal­en­dar – only two play­ers have won ma­jors be­fore they were 25 and not col­lected an­other. One was Jerry Pate, the other Justin Thomas.

The lat­ter is 27, is world No 2, has 13 PGA Tour ti­tles to his name and is so nailed-on to be­come a mul­ti­ple-ma­jor win­ner that he should be spon­sored by Screw­fix.

Pate, mean­while, was one of the big­gest sur­prise win­ners of a ma­jor when, as a 22-year-old rookie, he won the 1976 US Open, and even then he would surely have won an­other but for a suc­ces­sion of shoul­der in­juries that meant he was all but fin­ished by the age of 30.

Of course, th­ese things hap­pen to pro­fes­sional ath­letes. Noth­ing is cer­tain. But when it comes to Morikawa’s likely ca­reer path it makes sense to an­a­lyse those other golfers who, since the Sec­ond World War, won their first ma­jor be­fore the age of 24: Jack Nick­laus, Tiger Woods, Sev­e­ri­ano Balles­teros, Rory McIl­roy and Jor­dan Spi­eth.

The first two in that list do not war­rant com­par­i­son, ex­cept with each other. Yet while it might seem un­fair to bur­den Morikawa with the ex­pec­ta­tion of liv­ing up to the other three, it should be noted that his rise to ma­jor-win­ner sta­tus was even quicker. Granted Balles­teros, McIl­roy and Spi­eth were all un­der 22 when they joined the club and Morikawa is 23, but they had been pro­fes­sional for longer.

It is stun­ning to think that Morikawa has only been in the paid ranks for 14 months and that three of those months were wiped out by the pan­demic.

This was only Morikawa’s sec­ond ma­jor and only his 27th pro­fes­sional start. Woods won the 1997 Masters on his 17th pro­fes­sional start, but that was in his sev­enth ma­jor ap­pear­ance. Woods had won three PGA Tour ti­tles be­fore his maiden ma­jor at Au­gusta, while Morikawa had won twice be­fore Hard­ing Park. Morikawa made his first 22 cuts as a pro, a feat sur­passed, you guessed it, by only Woods, with 25.

Ev­ery­where one peers on Morikawa’s pris­tine CV are star­tling facts. For in­stance, his Satur­day and Sun­day scores were 65 and 64 and no­body has ever shot fewer in the fi­nal two rounds of a men’s ma­jor. Morikawa is up to world No5 and could con­ceiv­ably be No 1 by the end of this month.

He has the game and at­ti­tude that scream longevity, and Tour stal­warts in­sist they knew it from the start, pick­ing him out from this ver­i­ta­ble cav­alry of young Amer­i­cans who spread fear through Europe’s Ry­der Cup team room.

Eng­land’s Paul Casey said: “There’s al­ways kind of a new wave, al­ways a bunch of guys that rock up on the scene, and Collin didn’t nec­es­sar­ily get the most pub­lic­ity out of the group he was in, but you know, I con­sider my­self vet­eran; I’ve been around the block, so I know tal­ent when I see it, know when some­body is that good, and Collin was that good.

“We, the veterans, could just tell – he’s the one. Even if the me­dia weren’t talk­ing about him, that’s where we were fo­cus­ing our at­ten­tion. And we weren’t wrong. In­stant ma­tu­rity was prob­a­bly the one thing that stood out; the way he speaks, the way he plays golf. He’s re­ally stamped his author­ity.”

Casey, of course, has the bruises as ev­i­dence. The 43-year-old had just birdied the 16th to tie with Morikawa and was dream­ing of his own ma­jor duck be­ing bro­ken and Eng­land’s first Wana­maker Tro­phy win­ner in 101 years, when this stu­dious young man stepped up to that driv­able par four and con­jured one of the strikes of the ages.

It was any­thing but gung-ho. Morikawa’s play­ing part­ner, Cameron Champ, re­marked that it was so per­fect it looked like it came out of “a video game”.

It was a 294-yard ex­e­cu­tion of con­sum­mate con­trol hit on to the ideal spot be­fore the green, flirt­ing with the bunker on the right of the putting sur­face be­fore com­ing to rest within seven feet of the pin.

The ea­gle took him two clear of a leader­board that had ear­lier been so packed it seemed to have been scoff­ing at the con­cept of so­cial dis­tanc­ing. Yet the most amaz­ing as­pect was that he was only two ahead and there were two treach­er­ous holes re­main­ing. But ev­ery­one al­ready knew; Morikawa had, in the minds of Casey and most other ob­servers, al­ready com­pleted the glory.

That is the ex­tent of the clin­i­cal con­fi­dence he ex­udes. That is what is im­por­tant, so while the de­tails of his back­ground emerge, of his Ja­panese-Chi­nese her­itage and of the usual tales of a tod­dler pick­ing up a club and never let­ting go, it is the mo­ment that truly mat­ters and the Los An­ge­les star­let is more than pre­pared to play the lead­ing man in Amer­i­can golf ’s lat­est block­buster.

What a se­quel he could put on at next month’s US Open, and the Masters af­ter that.

“I feel very com­fort­able in this spot,” Morikawa said. “When I woke up this morn­ing I was like, ‘This is meant to be, this is where I want to be, and I’m not scared from it’. If I was, the last few holes would have been a lit­tle dif­fer­ent.

“And for me it doesn’t stop here. I’ve got a very good taste of what this is like, what a ma­jor cham­pi­onship is like. I know we all had to have some type of ad­just­ment not hav­ing fans, and when fans do start com­ing back it’s go­ing to be an ad­just­ment, but I love it.

“The ma­jors are go­ing to be cir­cled in, just like ev­ery­one else, but I’ve got to fo­cus on ev­ery sin­gle week. I’m 23. I haven’t even had a full year on Tour with ev­ery­thing go­ing on. There’s a very dif­fer­ent sense of com­fort now.”

Pages 6-7 Collin Morikawa, aged 23, holds the Wana­maker Tro­phy af­ter a fi­nal-round 64 left him two shots clear in the US PGA Cham­pi­onship in San Fran­cisco, earn­ing him a first ma­jor win

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