Palms of Victory: Collin Morikawa wins PGA Championship

Morikawa is the first Cal alumnus to win a major men's professional golf championship

Collin Morikawa is one of the most accomplished players in the history of the Cal men’s golf program. Among other accomplishments, he was a four-time All-American at Cal, a Pac-12 player of the year, the Golfweek national player of the year, and a 2019 graduate of the Haas undergraduate school of business.  

On Sunday, Morikawa added the most significant accomplishment to his still-young professional career.  The 23-year-old Cal alumnus shot a final round 64 to rally from two shots behind and win the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.  The 6-under par 64 was tied for the lowest final round for a winner in PGA Championship history.  Even more impressively, Morikawa’s final-round 64 came on the heels of a third-round 65 on Saturday. The combined 129 score for the weekend was the lowest two-round weekend score for a major championship winner in professional golf history. 

“It’s amazing. It’s been a life goal [since I was] as a little kid,” said Morikawa. “This is what I’ve always wanted to do.

“To finally close it off and close it out, in San Francisco, where I had a second home, it’s pretty special.”   

Morikawa began the day two shots behind the leader, 21-time PGA Tour winner and 2016 U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson. But it became evident quickly that the fourth round at Harding Park would not be the Dustin Johnson show. Morikawa played the front nine in 2-under par and then birdied the 10th hole to  pull into a tie for the lead.  Morikawa was not alone at the top of the leaderboard at that point. After Morikawa birdied the 10th, seven players were tied for the lead and the Wanamaker Trophy was officially up for grabs.  

See back pocket. Go Bears!

Morikawa did not back down from the challenge.  In fact, he rose to the occasion.  In the first of two defining moments that Morikawa faced on the back nine at Harding Park, Morikawa had to address one of his few mistakes during Sunday’s final round at the 14th hole.  After his second shot at the par-4 left him short of the green, Morikawa faced the task of getting up and down, and not losing a shot to the rest of the leaders.  Par would have been great, but Morikawa did one better: he holed out with his third shot to make an improbable birdie at the 14th hole, taking the solo lead at 11-under par.  

If observers of the final round didn’t take Morikawa seriously before, the hole out at 14th forced them to.  

Morikawa did not waste the momentum from his hole-out at the 14th.  After a par at the 15th, Morikawa came through with the second of his defining moments of the final round. Choosing driver at the driveable par-4 16th hole, Morikawa went for the green.  CBS Sports commentator Nick Faldo opined before the tee shot that the 16th hole fit Morikawa’s skill set perfectly.  Morikawa proved Faldo correct, unleashing a clutch tee shot to the 16th green that left him with a makeable eagle putt. 

The tee shot at 16 was reminiscent of his tee shot at the driveable par-4 14th hole at Muirfield Village, where Morikawa emerged victorious in July in a playoff over former PGA champion Justin Thomas. 

“I actually did (think about 14 at Muirfield),” said Morikawa  “It [the 16th hole] just fit my eye. We were hoping for a really good bounce, we got it, and now we’re here.” 

Morikawa calmly sank the eagle putt to take a two-shot lead over Arizona State alum and PGA Tour veteran Paul Casey, who had birdied the 16th ahead of Morikawa to (momentarily) tie for the lead.  But after seeing what Morikawa had done behind him, Casey knew the writing was on the wall. 

“Nothing you can do except tip your cap to that,” said Casey.  

After the eagle putt at 16, Morikawa firmly seized control of the tournament. Empowered by a two-shot lead, Morikawa went for the kill.  At the 17th, he barely missed a 30-foot birdie putt that would have placed his pursuers out of reach, settling for a par. And at the 18th hole, Morikawa displayed the consistency that had established him as the tournament leader in driving accuracy and putting.  Morikawa hit a perfect drive to the fairway and then hit his second shot to an ideal position on the green, despite fooling viewers with a reaction that suggested he had pulled the approach.  From there, it was two putts to victory.  Morikawa made par, putting the tournament out of reach for the remaining players on the course and etching his name onto the Wanamaker Trophy.

With the victory, Morikawa became the first Cal alum to win a major professional golf championship. As if that weren’t enough history made, Morikawa’s 64 also tied for the lowest final round score for the champion in PGA Championship history.  

Morikawa is now a major champion, in only his 27th professional start. The win gives him a lifetime exemption for the PGA Championship and a five-year exemption into the field for the other three major championships.  At 23 years old, he is in good company, joining Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, and Rory McIlroy as players who won their first PGA Championship at age 23.

Needless to say, 2020 has been a bizarre and largely forgettable year on many levels.  Morikawa stands as an exception: with two victories on the PGA Tour, one of which a major championship, Morikawa has made 2020 memorable for golf fans and has given Cal sports fans a reason to think that this is only the beginning of a prolific career.  

Go Bears!

UPDATE: With the PGA Championship victory, Morikawa vaults from 12th to 5th in the Official World Golf Rankings.