There was a lot of attention last summer when a trio of young college players turned professional and started making an immediate scene on the PGA Tour.
Viktor Hovland impressed everyone as the reigning US Amateur champion playing majors like a pro.
Matthew Wolff won his third pro start, by a stroke over fellow freshly minted rookie Collin Morikawa.
Veterans like Paul Casey took notice of what he called “instant maturity” of the kid from Cal-Berkeley.
“There's always a bunch of guys that rock up on the scene, and (Morikawa) didn’t necessarily get the most publicity out of the group he was in,” Casey said.
“Those of us who knew, knew that was the cat … he’s the one.”
On Sunday in the relative silence of the PGA Championship being staged across the bay from where Morikawa spent four years in college, he was “the one” who stepped out of a seven-way lead pack with a flawless round to beat Casey and Dustin Johnson by two shots at TPC Harding Park. He played the weekend of his second career major in 11-under, capped by a flawless 64 on Sunday to finish 13-under par.
“Im on cloud nine right now,” Morikawa said. “It’s hard to think about what this championship means.
"Obviously it’s a major, and this is what guys go for, especially at the end of the their career, and we’re just starting. So I think this is just a lot of confidence, a lot of momentum, and it just gives me a little taste of what’s to come.”
With a share of the lead, Casey watched from the adjacent 17th tee as Morikawa delivered the shot of his young life with a perfect 293-yard drive to 7 feet to make eagle to reach 13-under par.
“I mean, it’s my first bad round in a while in a major,” Koepka said of his 74 that left him 10 strokes behind the winner after starting the day two shots off the lead. “You know, hey, wasn’t meant to be.
"Three in a row, you’re not really supposed to do two in a row looking at history, but that’s all right. Got two more the rest of the season and we’ll figure it out from there.”
Koepka tipped his hat to the 23-year-old Morikawa, who figures to be a lasting threat to his recent major dominance considering he’s now won three times in 27 pro starts.
“To win a major this young in your career, he’s got a lot of upside,” Koepka said.
The only mistake Morikawa made all Sunday came when he already had two hands firmly and officially grasped on the handles of the Wanamaker Trophy. He lifted the 27-pound trophy over his head with a shake, and the top came tumbling off and onto the 18th green.
He can do whatever he wants with it now. The can’t-miss kid from Cal became the ninth player to win the PGA Championship in his debut. He tied for 35th in last year’s US Open in only his second professional start.
Sunday should have been filled with roars with a volatile leaderboard full of stars both young and old. At one point seven players were tied for the lead at 10-under including a host of fearless young players like Wolff, Scottie Scheffler, Cameron Champ and Morikawa.
“It was a party, pretty much,” Morikawa said.
“At that point, you’re looking at going, ‘Okay, who is going to bust out of this? hoping it was me,” Casey said.
When Morikawa chipped in for birdie from 54 feet on No 14, he got the momentum jolt he needed and pulled ahead of the clubhouse lead of 10-under set by Wolff. Then came the pivotal moment at the driveable 16th.
“We got to 16, (my caddie) asked me what I wanted to do,” Morikawa said.
“I’m sure it was a split between hitting iron and going for it. Why not hit a great driver? Why not hit that little left-to-right shot with the wind helping off the left? I hit it great.
"I just needed that one bounce to go forward, and it did, and those are shots that you’ve got to take opportunities, and that’s what really separated me.
Dustin Johnson failed to hold onto a 54-hole in a major for the fourth time in his career. He never looked as comfortable on Sunday as all the non-major winners reeling him. Bryson DeChambeau made an early charge to the top. Jason Day and Casey wouldn’t let the young guys shake them free.
Casey could only concede that a cat 21 years his junior simply beat him.
“Look, I played phenomenal golf and there’s nothing I would change,” Casey said. “I’m very, very happy with how I played. Wasn’t enough. The glorious shots Collin hit like on 16 to make eagle, you have to tip your cap. When he popped up on tour not that long ago, those guys who were paying attention like myself knew that this was something special, and he’s proved it today.”
Rory McIlroy left San Francisco with a late eagle on No. 16 to finish 2-under par and tied for 33rd . He played holes 12 through 14 in 10-over par for the week and the rest of the course at 12-under. He’ll head to the U.S. Open still looking to snap his six-year major drought.
“I’ve made a lot of birdies, but I’ve made a lot of bogeys, and that’s sort of been the story of my golf since coming back,” McIlroy said.
“It’s been enough good stuff in there, I’m just making a few too many mistakes. Just try to clean that up going forward and get ready for the next few events. I think most guys will probably have maybe six events left to the end of the year. That’s sort of, I think, what I’ll have.
Three playoff events coming up and two more major championships.” McIlroy said he was “sort of taken aback” to hear Koepka deliver a pointed jab at old friend Johnson on the eve of the final round.
“Yeah, I mean, sort of hard to knock a guy that’s got 21 wins on the PGA Tour, which is three times what Brooks has,” McIlroy said with a little knock of his own at the brash-talking Koepka.
Reigning Open champion Shane Lowry shot 74 on Sunday to slip to T66 on the week. His four three- putts on the weekend left him rankled.
“If I can just clean that up over the next while I can hopefully make it to the (PGA Tour) playoffs and hopefully have a run there, then obviously go to Winged Foot, which will be a test that I’m looking forward to and a test that I will like,” Lowry said.