Collin Morikawa officially cemented himself as one of the top professional golfers in the world last Sunday by claiming the PGA Championship, the first major title of his career.
The La Cañada Flintridge native finished 13-under par to earn his third PGA Tour victory since turning pro in July 2019. Benefits from a PGA Championship include total prize money of $1.98 million, lifetime exemption into the tournament and five-year exemptions into the Masters, U.S. Open, The Open and PGA Tour.
“It’s amazing. It’s been a life goal, obviously, as a little kid to kind of watch everyone grow up, all these professionals,” Morikawa told CBS sportscaster Jim Nantz after the win. “And this is what I always wanted to do.”
Morikawa, who graduated from La Cañada High School in 2015, shot up to No. 2 in the FedEx Cup standings and is currently fifth in the official world golf ranking behind Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson. At 23 years, six months and three days, he became the third-youngest player since World War II to win the tournament behind legend Jack Nicklaus and McIlroy.
“It’s great company. It’s been crazy because this entire start of my professional career, I see all the things comparing me to Tiger [Woods],” said Morikawa, who began his career making 22 consecutive cuts, a remarkable feat last achieved by Woods. “Tiger is on a completely different level, I think we all know that, but anytime you’re in the conversation of the greats [such as] Jack, Rory, Tiger, no matter who it is, if you’re in that conversation, you’re doing something well.”
His game certainly transcended last weekend, overcoming a tough start and slowly climbing the leaderboard. Morikawa showcased his talent with two impressive shots in final round, the first coming in the 14th hole. He chipped in a birdie from about 55 feet out to take a one stroke lead in a crowded leaderboard that had as many as seven golfers tied for first at some point.
“We got to 14, and on 14 I had a 9-iron,” he recalled. “The ball was a little above my feet, a little uphill stance. … On the chip shot, I think that was a huge turning point. That kind of separated me going into 15.”
Not long after, the former Spartan recorded what has been hailed as the best shot of the tournament. On the 336-yard, par-4 16th hole, the Cal product blasted a tee shot that carried 274 yards and bounced within 8 feet of the hole.
“It’s brilliant, Nick. It’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant,” raved CBS broadcaster Frank Nobilo. “That is what we’ve been waiting for. Twenty-three years of age [and he] just hit the shot of his life.”
The nifty shot set up an eagle that allowed Morikawa, who led the field in driving accuracy, to pull away from Paul Casey and Johnson, who finished 10-under.
“I had to make it,” he said. “I had to make that putt. Two strokes is a lot different than one stroke coming down on 18.”
The intrepid Pac 12 Player of the Year blasted a similar shot last month on the 14th hole at Muirfield Village in Ohio and went on to win the Workday Charity Open.
“I kind of thought back at 14 at Muirfield,” said Morikawa, a four-time Rio Hondo League champion. “What’s different between 14 at Muirfield and this shot? Similar numbers. The wind was a little left, kind of in to me, but I knew I hit a good one and stepped up. Those are moments I’m always going to remember. … We obviously got a very good bounce, and you just have to capitalize on those shots.”
Morikawa etched his name in the PGA Championship records book with his performance in the final two rounds, setting a new mark for lowest closing 36-hole score (129) and tying the record for the lowest final-round score (64).
An average of 5.153 million viewers tuned in to watch Morikawa’s grand performance and the final round was the most-watched golf telecast since June 2019, according to CBS Sports. Unfortunately, he heard a smattering of applause and a few cheers on the course.
“This is the one time I really wish there were crowds right there,” he said.
A major title certainly brings Morikawa into the spotlight, a position he is “very comfortable” to find himself in.
“When I woke up today, I was like, ‘This is meant to be,’” he said. “This is where I feel very comfortable. This is where I want to be and I’m not scared from it.”
Three PGA wins in a year hasn’t affected Morikawa’s tenacity and drive. He relished the victory and made it clear that there is more work to be done.
“It doesn’t stop here,” said Morikawa. “I got a very good taste of what this is like, what a major championship is like.
“I got to focus on every single week. I’m trying to win every single week. I’m not trying to come out and just win the majors. I’m 23, and this is my first full year. … I love golf. I love every part of it. I love being in this position. I love just being able to come out here and being able to play with a bunch of guys who love playing the sport.”