The BMW Championship at Olympia Fields in Chicago was won on Sunday evening by Jon Rahm after a playoff with Dustin Johnson after they had tied with a score of 276, a measly four under par. It was a US Open-type winning score, fittingly so given that Olympia Fields is a past host of the US Open, most recently in 2003 when Jim Furyk was the champion – with a surprisingly generous total of 272, in fact.
The 2020 US Open will be held at Winged Foot in New York, starting on September 17, and I think it is fair to say that Collin Morikawa’s triumph in the USPGA Championship at Harding Park last month has inspired thoughts about the prospect of a raft of exceptionally talented young players being ready to step up to the plate when it matters most.
Morikawa first. He is 23. Since the Second World War, the following are the other players, in order, who have won their first major before the age of 24: Jack Nicklaus, Jerry Pate, Seve Ballesteros, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. Pate, who won the 1976 US Open aged 22, is the only one of those not to win multiple majors (though he did lose a playoff for the USPGA in 1978), which at least in part has to be ascribed to recurring shoulder injuries that blighted his subsequent career. Put another way, the historical context of Morikawa’s precocity would suggest that he will not be a one-hit wonder. So does the fact that his scores of 65-64 on the weekend in San Francisco were an all-time best in a major championship.
So who might be the next in line? After the USPGA had ended, Brooks Koepka, the defending champion who fell away quite shockingly on Sunday, said: “He [Morikawa] is really good. You see these guys coming out of college now and they are ready to win. I think of that group, him [Morikawa], Matt Wolff [aged 21] and Viktor Hovland [who will turn 23 on the Friday at Winged Foot] and it’s impressive what they do.” Praise from Koepka should be listened to – he’s won four majors since June 2017.
There’s also Cameron Champ, who played with Morikawa on the Sunday at the USPGA. He’s 25 and lies second only to the behemoth that is Bryson DeChambeau (who will be 27 the day before the US Open begins) in terms of driving distance on the PGA Tour. They will be two other names to look out for in a fortnight’s time. And talking of stats, there was something else I noticed while looking on the PGA Tour’s website. I’d bet you’ll never guess who the current leader is in both driving accuracy and greens in regulation. The answer? Jim Furyk, aged 50, eligible for the Champions Tour since May. Over 17 years after the greatest week of his tournament life, he is evidence that while the young guns are on the rise, there is still life left in some old dogs yet.
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