Morikawa carries on with his major magic

Two titles in 11 months, before his 25th birthday, show he has the knack

On Monday, a photograph of Collin Morikawa rolling the case containing the Claret Jug through the Atlanta airport as he journeyed home after conquering England made the rounds on Twitter. Can there be a better carry-on?

The image took me back three decades, to two flights to New York’s JFK I was on with a new Champion Golfer of the Year—Mark Calcavecchia after he won at Royal Troon in 1989 and Ian Baker-Finch following his victory at Royal Birkdale in 1991. Calcavecchia was 29 when he had the best week of his golf life while Baker-Finch was 30, each a bit older than the new 24-year-old champion.

Neither Calcavecchia nor Baker-Finch won another major title, but their paths were otherwise different. The American would win events over   nearly two decades; Baker-Finch picked up two victories in his native Australia following his Open triumph but was off the tour in handful of years, his game deserting him as he tried to change it. Those two are among 143 men with a single major title (as defined as the current big four of professional golf). With Morikawa’s victory at Royal St. George’s, where it was as warm and sunny as his native Southern California, he joined a smaller group of 84 golfers who have won two or more majors.

The odds certainly seem to be with Morikawa adding to his total. The 2020 PGA champion, Morikawa is the first man to win his debut in two majors, and with at least a pair of major titles before his 25th birthday joins an elite set of players who have done so: Gene Sarazen, Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. No one in modern golf has won two majors more quickly. Spieth did it in 10 tries; Morikawa, who entered The Open at No. 4 in the Official World Golf Ranking, needed only eight appearances.

Spieth was in the fray on a postcard Sunday in southeast England and so was 2010 Open champion Louis Oosthuizen as a pandemic-caused compressed slate of seven majors in 11 months came to a close, the man who won the first of them at gallery-free Harding Park in San Francisco prevailing in the last in front of thousands of spectators enjoying the unusually balmy weather.

A decade ago at Royal St. George’s, Dustin Johnson opened the door for eventual champion Darren Clarke by hitting a shot out of bounds on the par-5 14th hole. This time, Oosthuizen’s mistake on another par 5, the seventh, buzzed in Morikawa when the two were co-leaders. The South African had a good lie in a greenside bunker but thinned his third shot over the green into more sand and ended up with a sloppy bogey that, combined with Morikawa’s 4, gave the Californian a two-stroke lead. When Morikawa closed the front nine with two more birdies, his advantage was three over a rallying Spieth and four over Oosthuizen.

With that kind of cushion, a birdie and a couple of sterling par saves over the final nine can be enough—and it was for Morikawa. His 15-under 265 was just one stroke off the 72-hole major low total, two better than Spieth with Oosthuizen and U.S. Open winner Jon Rahm sharing third place four shots back. Oosthuizen nearly shook things up on the long par-3 11th hole, his tee shot hitting the flagstick and settling a couple of feet away for an easy birdie. He still trailed by three, though, which was too great a deficit given Morikawa’s steady hand. Oosthuizen was bidding to become only the eighth Open winner to lead outright after each round since the event went to 72 holes, but instead the championship got its first golfer winning in his debut since Ben Curtis at Royal St. George’s in 2003.  

Since earning the Claret Jug at St. Andrews, Oosthuizen, 38, has eight top-three finishes but no wins in majors, a record resembling that of another beautifully smooth swinger of an earlier generation, Tom Weiskopf, who had eight top-fours without a trophy in the big ones following his 1973 Open triumph at Troon. Majors are hard to hook, the tarpon of the sport, even for the gifted and talented. Of course ball-striking, scrambling and putting matter, but winning them requires an intangible knack of composure, focus and grit—more art than science, even during this age of analytics. Given what he already has achieved, it’s going to fun to see what Morikawa creates down the major road.

Nothing to it

Robert Garrigus didn’t win last week’s Barbasol Championship—he tied for 31st—but he won’t forget his four trips down the 549-yard par-5 fifth hole at Keene Trace Golf Club in Kentucky. The 43-year-old PGA Tour veteran went birdie-albatross-eagle-eagle on No. 5, playing the hole eight under for the tournament. According to the tour, no one has ever had such a good week on a hole since detailed records began being kept in 1983.

Press credential of the week

1992 U.S. Senior Open

When recalling the senior tour of the 1980s and 1990s—what is now labeled PGA Tour Champions—it was the blend of stars and upstarts that made it interesting. One of the notable members of the latter group was Larry Laoretti, the cigar-smoking former longtime club pro who enjoyed a wonderful week at the seniors’ biggest event 29 years ago. Laoretti, 53, shot 68-72-67-68 at Saucon Valley in Bethlehem, Pa., to defeat Jim Colbert by four strokes. He earned $130,000 for what turned out to be his only victory. Laoretti was a busy man in 1992, playing in 36 events and making nearly $450,000 for the season. Aside from Laoretti, I have a distinct memory from that week of dozens of spectators lining up after one of the rounds to get Chi Chi Rodriguez’s autograph. The putter-as-sword routine and the jokes never seemed to get old for the fans who came out to see the golfers they had grown up following.

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