From a distance, Collin Morikawa’s history-defying win at the Open Championship felt bizarrely … routine.
If you’d stepped into a time machine on August 9, 2020 and traveled to today, it’d be fair to wonder if anything had changed. There was Morikawa seizing the lead with a furious mix of precision and execution as he charged down the back nine at Royal St. George’s — just as he had 11 months prior at the PGA Championship. And there was Morikawa, in only his first Open Championship start, protecting the late margin with the poise of a competitor twice his age — just as he had at TPC Harding Park.
It even permeated into the trophy celebration. The young Morikawa, only 24, remarkably eloquent as he diverted the attention swiftly away from his own role in his momentous accomplishment.
“I’m on cloud nine right now,” Morikawa said then. “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 their career, and we’re just starting.”
“This is by far one of the best moments of my life, to see everyone out here, look at all these fans,” he said Sunday. “You guys have been amazing. I’m obviously very biased being from the U.S., but to see some of the best crowds I’ve ever seen, I look forward to making my trip every year to the British Open and cheering you on. Thank you guys.
I wouldn’t be here without my family, my friends, my parents, my brother, Kat, my girlfriend,” he continued. “I love you guys so much, I hope I get to see you guys really soon.”
It was business as usual for Morikawa. As much as business can be usual for a record-breaking, two-time major champion still six months removed from his 25th birthday. So why did it feel like it wasn’t?
Back in August, Morikawa’s PGA Championship win came with a few caveats. Yes, he’d won in convincing fashion, and surely was on the shortlist of brightest young talents in golf. But he’d won with a home-field advantage — on a course no more than 30 minutes from Cal-Berkeley, where he played collegiately — and at a major lacking the typical juice provided by a raucous gallery (or, it turned out, any gallery at all).
In the months after his win at the PGA Championship, his game wobbled. His putting had proved narrowly good enough to secure victory on Harding Park’s relatively benign complexes, but it became a glaring weakness on the PGA Tour. On the days his ballstriking prowess sagged, his putting slumped further. In 2020, his strokes gained: putting ranked 128th on Tour. In the early portion of 2021, it slumped to 172nd. In the weeks leading up to the Open, he began experimenting with using two different putting grips (one for longer-range putts, and one for shorter) in order to find some semblance of consistency around the green. Slowly, the whispers grew louder. Perhaps Morikawa’s win at the PGA had been nothing more than a fluke.
But then came the Open, and Morikawa’s game steadied. After a relatively unremarkable Thursday 67, he challenged the single-round major championship record on Friday, flirting with 61 briefly before falling back to earth to finish with a 64. Over the weekend, his brilliant performance continued by relying upon, of all things, his putter. For the week at Royal St. George’s, he led the field in putts per green-in-regulation, including draining a series of huge ones down the home stretch to secure the win. That he did so while he faced what were likely the largest crowds of his professional career at a course he’d learned three days prior to the tournament? Well, that’s little more than icing on the cake.
“I’m going to tell myself probably tomorrow, why can’t I keep doing that all the time?” he said. “But you know, I’m going to try to figure out what worked today and use that for the future because I know I can putt well. I know I can putt well in these pressure situations. I’ve just got to keep doing that.”
The difference was even obvious in the trophy celebration. In August, Morikawa was surrounded by suits and masks as he accepted (and later dropped) the Wanamaker Trophy; in July, he was surrounded by masses of raucous fans, a few thousand of whom pitched in to sing happy birthday to his caddie, J.J. Jakovac. And in perhaps the most profound act of change from August, he turned his trophy acceptance speech into an acceptance petition.
“I touched on this in my last win in the WGC earlier this year, it was about giving thanks. I’m sure a lot of you guys are out here with family and friends. Just look over to them and say thank you,” he said. “Royal St. George’s put on a great championship. To be called the Champion Golfer of the World gives me chills. Thank you to every single one of you guys out here, every single one of you guys watching. Let’s keep it going. Thank you.”
It was clear as Morikawa mowed down another field filled with longer hitters and bigger names. Clear as he became Champion Golfer of the Year in only his first Open Championship start (the first golfer ever to win both a PGA and Open in his first try). And clearer still as he addressed the Royal St. George’s faithful and the golf world at large with an emphatic statement of gratitude.
A star was born at the Open Championship. Again.