Caddie J.J. Jakovac likes to tell one and all that his boss, Collin Morikawa, is an old soul, a man wise beyond his 24 years who is mature and grounded as the day is long and immune to fearing any obstacle at hand.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that the California Kid’s lack of experience playing the ancient and idiosyncratic links of Royal St. George’s, facing Sunday major pressure and dealing with a star-studded leaderboard didn’t throw him in winning the 149th playing of the British Open.
And it helps to be one of the best ball-strikers on the planet and have one of the best putting weeks of your career.
“You try not to listen to everything when it’s your rookie year or it’s your debut. And if you do, you do. Sometimes it gets to people,” Morikawa said. “I came out this week out not worried about playing against everyone else. I’m just trying to learn the golf course. Learning a links style golf course is tough because there’s so many slopes, and I like to know everything. I like to know every little detail possible, but it’s hard to do that out here.
“So, you have to be precise about everything, and that’s how I looked at it as a challenge, and I look forward to it.”
On the hottest day of the summer in the quaint seaside village of southeast England, which led the Open Championship weather officials to declare that the high UV levels would lead to a “high risk of sunburn, possible heat stress or heat stroke,” Morikawa, playing links golf for just the second time, remained collected and cool in the 80-degree heat. And he comfortably warmed to the pressure cooker of a final 18 on a Sunday in a major to become the Champion Golfer of the Year while adding his name to the history books.
After a scratchy start, Morikawa made three consecutive birdies just before the turn to take a commanding lead of three shots, added another red number on the 14th from 20 feet to maintain his advantage and kept the field at bay and his heartrate steady with momentum sustaining pars saves from 15 feet on both the 10th and 15th greens to win the Claret Jug in his debut in the oldest championship in golf.
With a final-round, bogey-free, 4-under-par 66, Morikawa finished at 15 under and two shots clear of Jordan Spieth, who was looking to cap his renaissance with his first major championship since winning the 2017 British Open at Royal Birkdale.
While the engraver carved Morikawa’s name onto the Claret Jug, the world No. 4 etched his name in the record books by becoming the first in the game’s history to win two different majors in his first attempt. Last year, Morikawa closed with a 64 in the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park to win the Wanamaker Trophy in just his second major, holding off Dustin Johnson, Paul Casey, Bryson DeChambeau, Jason Day and Tony Finau in the process.
“When you make history, it’s hard to grasp, and it’s hard to really take it in,” Morikawa said. “At 24 years old, it’s so hard to look back at the two short years that I have been a pro and see what I’ve done because I want more. I enjoy these moments and I love it, and I want to teach myself to embrace it a little more, maybe spend a few extra days and sit back and drink out of (Claret Jug). I just want more.
“When you’re in these moments and you truly love what you do, which I love playing golf and competing against these guys, these are the best moments ever because the nerves push you to just be a better person.”
Morikawa’s British Open conquest closed the book on a benchmark major season – Hideki Matsuyama became the first player from Japan to win the Masters, Phil Mickelson became the oldest major winner at the PGA Championship, and Jon Rahm became the first Spaniard to win the U.S. Open.
Spieth trailed by three entering the final round and got off to a slow start before charging back with an eagle on the seventh and birdies on the ninth, 10th, 13th and 14th to get within one shot. But he stalled coming home and signed for a 66 to finish at 13 under.
Spieth, who earned his fourth top-10 in the Open in eight starts, couldn’t overcome his poor finish in the third round. He bogeyed the 17th from the middle of the fairway from 70 yards and three-putted the 18th from 20 feet, missing a 2-footer. Spieth basically sprinted to the practice putting green to find a remedy for his putting woes in the fading light and took the putter home with him to continue the work in his residence.
“The finish yesterday, that was about as upset as I’ve taken a finish of a round to the house. I walked in (the house) and I said, ‘Is there something that I can break?’ Anyway, had to regroup 18 hours later,” said Spieth, the three-time major champion who has nine top-10s this year, including a victory in the Valero Texas Open, to emerge from wondering in a nearly four-year winless wilderness.
“My putting is not where I want to be at all. I say at all. It’s progressing the right direction, but it’s not where it has been. And I know what needs to do to get there, and it’s just very difficult to do. I just wasn’t extremely sharp with the putter this week. I’m proud of going 6 under in the last 12 holes in this golf tournament and putting some pressure on Collin. I did everything I could in the past few hours to win this championship.”
Rahm, the reigning U.S. Open champion, came rushing home with four consecutive birdies to close with a 66 and finish at 11 under. While he didn’t become the first since Tiger Woods in 2000 to win both the U.S. Open and British Open in the same year, Rahm regained his spot as the world No. 1.
Joining Rahm at 11 under was Louis Oosthuizen, who was trying to become the first wire-to-wire winner of the Open since Rory McIlroy in 2014. But the 2010 Open champion, who was unflappable through three rounds and took a one-shot lead into the final day, was never on point and lost his lead with a bogey on the par-5 7th hole, which played as the easiest hole in the championship, and could muster just a 71.