Bryson DeChambeau and Collin Morikawa were the two most fascinating golfers on the course all day in the final round of the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park. DeChambeau because he melted the front nine and looked as if he was going to run away with the event. Morikawa because he closed like the champion he is and took home his first major win as a result.
The intrigue only begins there, though, because they could not be more different stylistically if they tried. DeChambeau is all meat and potatoes, often pumping himself up like an Olympic powerlifter before he pummeled his golf ball into the thick San Francisco air all week. Morikawa mesmerized with his liquid swing.
DeChambeau averaged 318 yards off the tee last week at Harding Park. This was the presumed way to beat down a “big boy course” (Brooks Koepka’s words) going into the week. It nearly worked. DeChambeau manhandled his way to a 66 on Sunday and finished just three back of Morikawa at the end of the day. Morikawa, on the other hand, averaged just 290 off the tee, which was T40 of the 79 players who made the cut. Amazingly, these two were Nos. 1 and 2 in strokes gained off the tee on Sunday even though DeChambeau was 20 yards longer than Morikawa. That’s because Morikawa hit 12-of-14 fairways, first in the field.
In an age where everybody who even thinks about golf must have a take on whether the golf ball flies too far, they will be an interesting contrast going forward. Both styles clearly work, but one might be slightly more suited for major championship play. In regular PGA Tour events, driving is most often the most important category for a golfer to be elite in. That also works in major championships, but major championship golf is more often about precision, angles and leaving yourself in the right spots.
Coincidentally, the PGA Championship might be the least suited of the four majors to Morikawa’s skillset (and most suited to DeChambeau’s). Morikawa is not the favorite for the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in just over a month, but he maybe should be. U.S. Opens and Open Championships demand a level of skill in controlling your ball flight and trajectory that regular PGA Tour stops often do not.
So we could find ourselves in a situation where Bryson racks up more PGA Tour wins while Morikawa collects the big ones. To be clear: both styles are working just fine for both players. Bryson has won six times on the PGA Tour in 107 starts. Morikawa has won three in 29 starts. Both percentages are astoundingly impressive. Both have won tournaments at Muirfield Village, and both have contended at a major championship.
Where golf goes from here will be of massive consequence to both players. On Monday morning, following Morikawa’s victory, the USGA and R&A released a joint statement saying that they would update their “release of research topics related to the next phase of the Distance Insights Project” in March 2021. This will impact the direction golf takes as it relates to the golf ball traveling distances the sport may have never intended it to travel.
Morikawa, who ranks outside the top 100 in average distance off the tee (Bryson is No. 1), had some intriguing insight on this very topic (if unintentionally) after he hit the shot of his life on Sunday at Harding Park. A 294-yard par-4 at which he hit a driver 292 yards to 7 feet. From there, he made the eagle putt for the win. DeChambeau played the hole similarly but missed his putt for eagle.
“It just had to be a normal driver for me,” said Morikawa. “I didn’t have to do anything special. Thankfully I don’t hit it 330.”
Thankfully I don’t hit it 330.
I’m certainly not advocating for courses to be shortened to 6,500 yards because, like McIlroy, I think distance is absolutely a skill, one DeChambeau has worked hard to obtain. However, distance should only be one part of a multi-layered test in championship golf. The actual answer to some of the issues with distance in the game might not be “hey, create a golf ball that only goes X number of yards” because that often helps bombers instead of shorter hitters. The actual answer might be to create more shorter risk-reward holes that allow the big fellas to take rips but punish them if they’re not on point like Morikawa was.
Golf tournaments should not be long-drive contests but rather, they should test every skill a golfer has. Power is one. Accuracy is also one. There are several, and somehow Morikawa seems to have accumulated them all in a minuscule period of time.
The best part about all of this is that there’s not really a right answer here. I know which one I believe will stand up better at major championship venues like Winged Foot, Shinnecock and Carnoustie, but you can’t argue with Bryson’s results or how he played all week at TPC Harding Park.
What I do hope is that both stay in their own lanes. That Dechambeau doesn’t try to become Jim Furyk (he won’t) and that Morikawa doesn’t try to become Jason Kokrak. I love watching DeChambeau try and pulverize golf balls into the San Francisco Bay (part of that is probably unintentional comedic joy) just as much as I love watching Morikawa pure iron after iron from all over the yard. Both versions will resound for the next decade, which one has more success, though, will be a hell of a thing to watch.