Collin Morikawa’s Joyful Win Broke Through Golf’s Pandemic Fog

Collin Morikawa’s Joyful Win Broke Through Golf’s Pandemic Fog

Collin Morikawa’s Joyful Win Broke Through Golf’s Pandemic Fog

Collin Morikawa’s Joyful Win Broke Through Golf’s Pandemic Fog

As Collin Morikawa hoisted the huge Wanamaker Trophy above his head on Sunday evening, giving it a quick, jubilant shake, the lid went clattering off. Again, he was providing exactly what golf needed in a season dimmed by plague.

First the 23-year-old Morikawa delivered a dazzling final round to win the P.G.A. Championship at San Francisco’s T.P.C. Harding Park, becoming the long-overdue first major champion of 2020. Then came the comic relief, the sheepish smile as the top of the trophy went astray.

After Morikawa made two unforgettable shots to emerge from a throng of tenacious contenders on the back nine Sunday, it was tempting to consider the future of the game, all the more so since that throng included Matthew Wolff, a 21-year-old in his first major, and Scottie Scheffler, a 24-year-old, who finished tied for fourth.

But the real value of Morikawa’s beguiling, gutsy victory lay more in what it showed about the state of golf now than what it portended.

When he drove the ball off the tee to within seven feet of the hole on No. 16, a dream shot setting up an eagle putt, Morikawa made it easy to forget that this major tournament was being held three months late and shadowed by the coronavirus pandemic.

According to early ratings returns, the tournament drew its biggest TV audience in five years, even as golf was competing with the resumption of U.S. league sports. And, as has happened throughout the PGA Tour’s return since mid-June, fans turned out in person despite being prohibited from attending, notably collapsing parts of the fencing that blocked views of the 12th and 13th holes from the viewing public.

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry was an exception to the fan-less rule that has governed golf’s return. With his team eliminated from the N.B.A. postseason, Curry followed Morikawa’s group on Sunday, then crashed the post-round news conference to offer his caddying services to the champion.

Morikawa, a Lakers fan, declined.

The interest in Sunday’s final owed as much to Morikawa’s jaw-dropping shots as it did to a preposterously talented field which, at one point on Sunday, featured a seven-person tie for the lead.

Paul Casey, the 43-year-old Englishman, ended the day in a tie for second with Dustin Johnson. They finished two strokes behind Morikawa’s 13-under-par for the tournament after he shot a final round six-under 64.

A win for either would have carried significance. Casey has started more major championships (64) without gaining a title than any other active player. And this was the fourth time that Johnson has held or shared a 54-hole lead at a major and been unable to close the deal, an ignominious record.

For all his talent, Johnson, 36, has won just one major, the 2016 United States Open — a point impudently noted on Saturday night by Brooks Koepka, winner of the previous two P.G.A. Championships.

“I like my chances,” said Koepka, who was two strokes behind Johnson after the third round. “When I’ve been in this position before, I’ve capitalized.”

He noted that Johnson had “only won one, so — I’m playing good, so we’ll see.”

Koepka quickly fell out of contention on Sunday, shooting a four-over 74, while Rory McIlroy publicly challenged his comments about Johnson.

“Sort of hard to knock a guy that’s got 21 wins on the PGA Tour, which is three times what Brooks has,” said McIlroy, who, like Koepka, is a four-time major winner.

Ultimately, though, that squabble and Johnson’s unfortunate retreat from the top of the leaderboard paled next to Morikawa’s thrilling, and remarkably mature, play.

“All my caddie friends say the same thing,” said his caddie, J.J. Jakovac. “They’re like, I just cannot get over how mature your guy is. He’s like an old soul or something.”

Morikawa’s familiarity with the course certainly helped him. By his own calculations, he played at Harding Park at least a dozen times during his college career at the nearby at the University of California, Berkeley.

“To be honest, through college, it wasn’t my favorite,” he said. “I don’t think I played it extremely well.”

Just a little over a year after turning pro, Morikawa has now won three times on the PGA Tour, twice in the relative silence of this summer’s spectator-free tournaments. Morikawa said he wouldn’t have minded hearing a big reaction when his 293-yard drive at 16 reached the green, since he and his caddie couldn’t see where the ball ended up.

“This is the one time I really wish there were crowds right there,” he said.

Still, his 65 and 64 over the weekend gave him the lowest closing 36-hole score ever at a men’s major. The previous record of 130 was held by Tom Watson (1977 British Open), Ian Baker-Finch (1991 British Open), Anders Forsbrand (1994 British Open), Marc Leishman (2015 British Open) and Tiger Woods (2018 P.G.A. Championship).

So Morikawa wasn’t inclined to think about what was missing, except, very briefly, the lid to his new trophy.

Gwen Knapp contributed to this article.

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