Collin Morikawa is this week's Cheater of Nightmares

July 13, 2020

Gregory Shamus

The conclusion of Sunday's Workday Charity Open was a tale of two Collin Morikawa putts. The one that we'll remember for a very long time came after Justin Thomas nailed a 50-foot bomb of his own on the first playoff hole, turning Morikawa's long birdie attempt into a make-it-or-go-home shot. He did not go home:

Two holes later, he won the event, and his response to the Thomas miracle on the 18th green will go down as one of the season's great moments.

BUT! It almost didn't happen. Playing the 18th hole in "regulation," Morikawa benefited from a Thomas bogey, and only had to make a par putt of 2 feet, 3 inches to force a playoff. It seemed like a near-gimme, and watching at home, I wasn't prepared for what happened:

Nantz spoke for all of us when he said "ah-hhaaa-aaaahh-ahhhhh!" Of course, as Faldo noted, Morikawa may have had some bad memories in his mind from his Colonial playoff against Daniel Berger, when he needed this short one to extend the tournament:

The start of Morikawa's PGA Tour career has been almost uniformly positive. He never misses a cut, he won the Barracuda Championship last summer, and he always seems to be in contention. The missed putt at the Colonial, and perhaps a few shaky putts before it, were the only real blot on his resume. But imagine, if you will, that he had missed his short putt on the 18th on Sunday. Imagine it's another millimeter off to the left, and instead of rounding the cup and falling, it lips out, and Justin Thomas wins.

Suddenly, the entire narrative on Morikawa shifts. His story turns into a nightmare. His confidence is, if not shattered, at least shattered-adjacent.

Confidence in sport always exists on a knife's edge, but I'm convinced it's more true in golf than any other game. Instead of missing, Morikawa barely eked his way into the playoff, where he played beautifully and hit an iconic putt that should fill him with confidence and give him fuel for the future. Because he won, it's likely that he'll be that much more comfortable the next time he's under pressure on a Sunday.

But it could have been so different. This may sound like hyperbole, but I don't think it's impossible that the trajectory of his early career hung in the balance with that putt on 18. Yes, he's young, and yes, he seems to have his head on straight. But public embarrassments linger, and failure under pressure mounts on itself and can turn into a long-term bugaboo. Miss that putt, and you can't even predict how deep the consequences run.

It didn't happen—he escaped. In a year, nobody except me and a few other obsessives will remember how close it came to spinning out. The best putt of his life almost never happened, and it shows how, in golf, the line between great success and humiliating failure is impossibly thin.

Golden Age of the Week: The Professional Dunkers

One of the very few not-terrible things about the pandemic is that it forces ESPN to put weird content on their front page, which is how I came across this dunk video:

Who is his guy? It's Isaiah Rivera, a Professional Dunker, that's who. Seriously! There are people who do this for a living, and they're damn good. Look at this one, from Jordan Kilganon:

All of these are better than anything I've seen at a slam dunk contest, and I hereby propose that come All-Star weekend—if there's ever another one, that is—we watch these guys compete instead. It would be too said if they slip back into obscurity after the NBA comes back.

New Sport of the Week: Swimming by Dangerous Sea Creatures

Don't be fooled by the peaceful music...what you're about to see is a horror film:

I've been getting really into the survival show Alone, and this seems like a logical evolution of its core concept: Put ten people in waters with rays, sharks, and etc., and the last one to tap out or get eaten wins a prize. If normal sports beyond golf aren't going to work, we may as well use the chance to go extreme.

Bad Sign of the Week for Football Fans: NJCAA Delays 'Til Spring

This, from ESPN by way of The Athletic, is a harbinger of bad things if you like football and want to see it played this fall. The National Junior College Athletic Association will soon approve a moving the football season to spring. And that's not all—basketball won't start until late January, and a bunch of other sports are being moved around too.

It certainly makes sense—if you believe that the virus will spread in a "second wave" in the fall, and that contact sports are basically perfect vectors for COVID-19, then there's no way you can hold these sports, particularly when we're failing so comprehensively in the U.S. to stop the spread.

But, as we've seen, the major sports don't quite want to admit it yet. The NBA is coming back in a "bubble" that coincidentally happens to be in the worst state possible, not far from the hugely ill-advised re-opening of Disney. College football teams continue to meet and practice even as dozens of players catch the virus. It's much easier for the NJCAA to move its sports, since there aren't hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, but the fact that they're making the move is bad news for the sports that do. They'll hold out longer, but it's unlikely that the critical facts will change.

Hypnotic Softball Hero of the Week: Emma Humplik

I'll be honest, I don't know who Emma Humplik is beyond the fact that Google tells me she's a college recruit, but I can't stop watching. She can CRUSH: