Tour Confidential: Does this win change expectations for Collin Morikawa?

Collin Morikawa

Collin Morikawa has claimed his first career major at just 23 years old.

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Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week we discuss Collin Morikawa’s victory at the Memorial, Brooks Koepka’s Sunday struggle, and a major championship without fans …

1. Collin Morikawa, a 23-year-old making just his second career major start, broke away from the pack at TPC Harding (thanks in part to an epic eagle 2 on 16) to shoot 64 and win the PGA Championship by two shots. Morikawa, who fended off a slew of big names down the stretch, has now won three times on Tour. He’s been widely praised for his ball-striking and poise. What, in your mind, is his greatest strength?

Sean Zak, senior editor (@sean_zak): You already said it: his ball-striking. He has been complimented by so many elite pros, he’s being compared to Tiger, all the stats back it up. He is one of the best ball-strikers of the modern era (and yes, we still need to see a greater sample size) and is so solid that if he putts decently, he’ll contend. If he putts great, like he did this week, he’s likely going to beat you over 18 holes. Those guys never seem to fade away.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: His intelligence. The intelligence to play his game, not somebody else’s.

John Wood, PGA Tour caddie: His greatest strength to me is his dearth of a weakness. I just don’t see one. Obviously he’s a brilliant ball-striker and his demeanor is cool as ice, but you watch him and you don’t see anything he’s not good at. Outside of Tiger, I don’t know how many of today’s elite players have as complete a game, mentally, emotionally, and physically, as Morikawa.

Alan Bastable, executive editor (@alan_bastable): Gosh, he makes the game look so easy. Many of the great ones do but not all of them. And then, win or lose, he strolls off the course chin up and faces the media with the poise of a press secretary. Complete package. Greatest strength, though: his smile. Give the kid a Crest deal already! 

James Colgan, assistant editor (@jamescolgan26): His iron play is nothing short of spectacular. It seems like every time he NEEDS a shot, he has the answer with his mid-range game. Everyone’s going to remember the tee shot on 16, but think back to 18. He pulled away from his approach like he’d missed it a mile left. For any other golfer, a response like that means they’re in deep trouble. Morikawa’s shot landed 15 feet from the pin.

Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): His greatest strength, to John’s point, is just how bulletproof it all is. His irons are his strongest weapons, but he took over this championship with a chip (after shorting an iron at 14) and a drive (the beautiful laserbeam at 16). Relentless.

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2. Morikawa’s third victory came in just his 29th career start; Tiger Woods won the 1997 Masters in his 29th start for his fourth career victory. We’re not drawing any Tiger comparisons (yet!), but how does much does this win alter your expectations in terms of what Morikawa might be capable of?

Zak: It means we can add his name to the short list of elite pros — Rory, DJ, Rahm, Justin Thomas (and that might be it) — who are a threat to the leaders even if they simply make the cut on the number. They can heat up and throw out consecutive 63s at just about any Tour track. That’s what he did this weekend. 65-64 is crazy good. 

Bamberger: He swings beautifully. He carries himself with such poise. I could see him winning another major and other Tour events. 

Wood: Despite our collective egos and self proclaimed brilliance, it doesn’t matter what we think. It matters what Collin thinks. I’m sure he believed before this week, but now he knows. He can win anywhere, anytime, on any stage. Lots of really good players believe they can win, or at least they say they do. Collin KNOWS, at a very young age, that he has gotten it done in a major. I’m not sure if this alters his expectations, but it certainly solidifies them.

Bastable: Great point, John. Imagine how Phil’s career might have differed if he won a major at 23 — that surge of confidence, of knowing that you can win the big one, is priceless. But yes, let us cool the jets! Alas, it wasn’t long ago that we were ready to hand Jordan Spieth 15 majors on a platter. Sustained greatness in the majors is not a sprint but a marathon. Let’s enjoy this moment for what it is: seemingly the beginning of a long, fruitful career for a kid who’s easy to root for.

Colgan: Call it youthful ignorance (on both his part and mine), but after this week, I think we’re looking at a multiple-time major champion. Morikawa’s mindset is elite, which is what separates him from the Spieths and Rorys of the world at similar points in their respective careers. He’s not dominant, he’s cold-blooded — there’s a difference. As far as I’m concerned, the sky’s the limit.

Dethier: He already has more majors than Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, Rickie Fowler and Tommy Fleetwood combined. That’s gotta be worth something. There are no guarantees when it comes to majors — those four stars are proof of that — but this quickly elevates Morikawa from “one of the young stars” to golf’s upper echelon, in terms of achievement and potential. He’s playing like one of the world’s best golfers and we have no reason to think he’ll stop soon.

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3. PGA Tour tournaments have been fan-less for a couple of months, but this was our first fan-less major. How much, if at all, do you suppose the muted atmosphere helped a young player like Morikawa, who is not accustomed to playing in majors with tens of thousands of fans watching his every move?

Zak: I think it made the final two holes much easier. That’s when it got real for him. No. 17 wasn’t playing difficult, but with spectators breathing down his neck, maybe he fans it into a bunker. And then on 18, with thousands lining that hole, the walk to it, the walk from it, etc., those nerves are amplified. It’s human nature. 

Bamberger: I agree with Sean. Crowd noise cannot NOT influence your breathing, your heart rate, your walking pace. It’s just different. It worked to his advantage. 

Wood: If another young guy won, I may agree with you. But with Morikawa, I’m not so sure he would have noticed there were tens of thousands of people there. And if he did, I’m sure all he would have heard was, “Go Bears.” 

Bastable: It’s not like he hasn’t won (and lost) in front of fans before. Yes, the majors are at a different level, especially late on a Sunday afternoon, but that tee shot at 16 (followed by the holed putt) should lay to rest any questions about Morikawa’s steel. You get the sense, with throngs of eyes upon him, he would have held up just fine.

Colgan: I think Alan and John are dead-on. It might’ve been more stressful on him mentally, but I don’t think a gallery would’ve changed the outcome this weekend.

Dethier: It’s one of those things that has an effect, for sure, but that effect is so hard to quantify. Would Brooks Koepka have kept the train on the tracks if he’d had a tunnel of screaming Bay Area fans cheering him to the first tee? Would Dustin Johnson have stayed dialed in? Would Morikawa have felt an extra twinge of nervousness on No. 16 tee and found the bunker, making par instead of eagle? That’s a different world than the one they played golf in today.

4. Brooks Koepka started the final round two shots behind 54-hole leader Dustin Johnson, but many still considered Koepka to be the favorite, given his recent track record in the majors. (On Saturday evening, Koepka also was decidedly bullish on his own chances.) But Koepka shot 74 and finished T29. Does this round put a dent in Koepka’s major rep, or can we write it off as just a bad day?  

Zak: It was a bad day, but I think it puts a slight dent in his major rep. He was that bad Sunday. Mistakes all over the course. He still has a super impressive record, but he can’t quite speak as confidently as he did Saturday night. Though I’m sure he still will. 

Bamberger: It puts a dent in his manner in front of a mic. But that’s all.

Wood: A bad day. Listen, it’s HARD to win a major, and he’s still won four of them fairly recently. If he goes a couple years without one, then there’s a dent. But having one bad Sunday doesn’t change my view of him at all.  

Bastable: I love what Brooks brings to the game. The Golf Channel guys were just saying how his in-your-grill style is perfect for the “Barstool crowd.” Uh, well, yeah, I guess. But I think it’s good for all golf fans. You don’t have to like it — but his endless confidence and fearlessness and not-caringness makes you feel something as a sports fan. Over the last few days, Brooks has assumed more of a villain role than he ever has before, and I’m down with it. Brooks, Reed, Sergio, et al. — they keep the game interesting. The 74? Yes, not a great look after all his bluster on Saturday evening. But he’ll bounce back. He’s Brooks.

Colgan: It proves that he — like everyone else — is not Tiger Woods. If anything, I think today mutes the major championship comparisons that have sprung up between Brooks and Tiger (not that they should have been made in the first place). A vintage Tiger probably never makes a Saturday evening slight toward the 54-hole leader, but he *definitely* doesn’t follow it up by shooting four over on Sunday.

Dethier: Speak softly and carry a big stick. The inverse approach makes you look bad.

5. Tiger Woods finished one under (68-72-72-67) and T-37 at Harding Park in what was just his third start since February and second since the Tour returned in June. What did Woods’ performance in the first major of the year tell you about what we might see from him in the coming month at Winged Foot and Augusta?

Zak: His body looked healthy. He finished 18 with a proper lash from the rough. That was good to see. His putter was not good, though. And Harding Park’s greens weren’t tough. And nowhere near U.S. Open tough. 

Bamberger: He looks like he knows he was lucky to have won at Augusta last year. He’s still incredible. One of the best. His play at the Presidents Cup was amazing. But Daniel Berger might be better at golf right now.

Wood: I agree with Sean. His body looked healthy, in relatively cold conditions, so I’d expect him to contend in at least one of the next two majors.

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Bastable: Berger > Woods? Dang, Bamberger. Listen, we’ve been here before. Tiger’s recent years have been full of unmemorable weeks, and they really don’t mean anything other than serving as a reminder that he no longer has the ability to bring his best stuff to every start. He can’t summon it. I don’t expect him to contend at Winged Foot, either — too mean and gnarly. But the fall Masters? I like Tiger at Augusta in any season.    

Colgan: This week likely featured the worst weather of golf’s three majors in 2020 and Tiger fared alright. He’s got to figure out the putter, but that’s about the last thing to worry about when it comes to the state of all things Tiger Woods. I think he’ll be part of the weekend conversation at both Winged Foot and Augusta, even if I’m bearish on his odds of winning a major in 2020.

Dethier: He moved well. As a Massachusetts man, I’m excited to see him tee it up in Boston, like old times. Woods has now improved his finishes in two consecutive starts — time to crack that top 35, now! I’d be surprised if he doesn’t.

6. Morikawa’s week will most be remembered for his drive-the-green eagle 2 at the 16th hole on Sunday. Where does that deuce rank among the most clutch moments in major-championship history? 

Zak: Uhhh, middle of the pack? It was definitely clutch, but something about it feels lacking. Probably the fans. I’ll need to get over that. 

Bamberger: Not as high as Sarazen’s 2 on 15 in the second Masters, but very, very high! He didn’t need to make a 2 there. He needed to drive it in a place where he could tap-in for 3. He did that and more. 

Wood: The lack of a slow rolling eruption from a crowd as the ball landed and crawled up close to the hole does make it less memorable.    Nothing against the shot at all, it was brilliant. But it terms of sheer memory, the quiet doesn’t help.

Bastable: Exactly. The lack of roars were notable, but they unfairly diminished the moment! Morikawa made a 2 — an eagle 2! — on the 70th hole of a major championship. It wasn’t Shaun Micheel clutch, but, damn, it was special. Related: Wonder how many patrons were around the green when Sarazen holed out?

Colgan: Most clutch might be a touch hot for me. But make no mistake about it, that moment will forever be remembered as Collin Morikawa’s official arrival, and the smart money says we’ll be talking about him (if not the shot) for a while.

Dethier: Ask again at next year’s PGA to see how well we remember it then. We’re prisoners of the moment, big-time. But in terms of sheer difficulty, carving a driver onto a green on the 70th hole of a major championship is pretty high up there.

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