Celebrate Good Times
How well did Collin Morikawa celebrate his win? We turn to the C.E.L.E.B.R.A.T.I.O.N. Scale
The PGA Tour's fall season rolls on, and that means the C.E.L.E.B.R.A.T.I.O.N. Scale rolls right along with it, analyzing and dissecting each winner's victory moment. This week, we turn to Collin Morikawa, who broke his long victory drought with a frankly insane bludgeoning of the field at the Zozo Championship, where his Sunday 63 propelled him to a six-shot win. On paper, let's be honest, this doesn't look great for raw celebration metrics — an incredibly polished pro's pro winning by six in the fall and finishing before his competitors so you don't even get that immediate closure. With respect to the drought breaking, that's a classic snoozer scenario. But sometimes strange situations can surprise us. Let's dig in!
Here's a quick reminder of how THE C.E.L.E.B.R.A.T.I.O.N. SCALE works: Using 11 different criteria, each rated from 1-10, we come up with a comprehensive score that can be used as a measure of excellence and a comparison to past and future celebrations. The criteria:
Crowd Work - When you win, are you a man of the people?
Elation - How much did you let loose?
Looper Moment - That first hug/fist bump/whatever with the caddie is so important
Emotion - You know you get MASSIVE points for tears in this one.
Body Work - Separate from elation/emotion, how good was the sheer physicality?
Relations - Family? Friends? Agents?
Awkwardness - Golf can be an awkward sport, we love it, and here we reward it
Theatrics - A catch-all category for any other BIG elements of the celebration
Interview - The victory interview; how well did they execute?
Opponent interaction - Was there respect shown to the enemy? We love respect.
N-tangibles - Anything—and everything—else
We'll refer to this video, with thanks once again to the PGA Tour:
1. Crowd Work
We're coming off two straight wins — Tom Kim at the Shriners, Luke List at Sanderson Farms — where the players literally did not acknowledge the crowd after making the last putt. Not even a wave! So perhaps my standards are lower than usual, but I'm heartened to see that even in a scenario where there's not much room for absolute jubilation, Morikawa's very first move was to give the Japanese crowd its props. Obviously there's a personal connection there to some extent, since Morikawa is of Chinese-Japanese descent, and he made sure to recognize the people who had been cheering him all week. You could look at his first pump at 0:13 as a nod to the crowd, and even if that's ambiguous, a wave at 0:16, another at 0:20, another at 0:24, and then coup de grace, a subtle hat tip at 0:26, tells you all you need to know: this is a pro's pro, and even after two years without a win, it's in his blood to acknowledge the people. That would have been good enough for a high score, but then at 0:42, walking off the green, he waves his hat to them, spins around to acknowledge as many as possible and even applauds them — you have to look closely — at the 0:43 mark. For someone who had to vacate the green pretty quickly to make way for the last groups, this is a total masterclass.
Here's where Morikawa is going to suffer. When you hit a birdie putt on 18 to go up six, and there's exactly zero doubt that you're going to win, you're not exactly going to be sprinting around the green. The initial reaction had to be relatively calm and classy, and the most Morikawa could get away with was the raised putter and the confident but understated fist pump. He did the right thing, but like Lady Justice herself, the C.E.L.E.B.R.A.T.I.O.N. Scale is blind, and we've got to ding him here. I don't like it, but the job is the job.
3. Looper Moment
Starting at 0:26, this is the rawest bit of emotion in the entire celebration. When Morikawa hugs Jonathan Jakovac, you can see the frustrations of two winless years coming out. Morikawa comes in with the expression of someone who's thinking, "maybe this will be a normal hug," but JJ is simply not having it. The caddie bear hugs him, slaps his back and gives out so much emotion that Morikawa has to return it, and you can see him hugging JJ tighter in return. Neither one of them wants to let go, JJ especially, and he's got some words for Morikawa too. I'm no lip reader, but it doesn't take much to see the pride there, and how they stuck together through the "hard" times. They end it with a bro shake, and JJ can't help bringing him in for one last half embrace. It lasts ten seconds, but it's emotional as hell. TERRIFIC caddie interaction.
For the first time, we turn to the interview with Craig Perks, watching intently for tears, of course, but really anything on the spectrum. But after the hug with Jakovac, Morikawa reverts squarely back to his uber-professional demeanor, and with Perks and with his wife, he's very even-keeled. Perks actually waits a long time to ask him about the drought, leading with golf questions first, and by the time they get there, Morikawa's affect is pretty level and he's not budging. The answers are really good — we'll get to that later — but there's not going to be any breakdown here. The hug with Jakovac was the closest he came to something raw.
5. Body Work
Man, the raised putter as the ball rolls, followed by the cocky-but-lovable smile for the crowd and the steady underhanded fist pump ... that's so cool. It's really the best thing he could have down under the circumstances, and you really have to hand it to him. We've already covered the hug with Jakovac, but worth nothing that Morikawa gives him a kind of one-handed shoulder massage at 0:32. Make of that what you will. Then, with Perks, he adopts the classic Media Pose, hands on hips, elbows jutting out. There are a couple solid "take off the hat, rub the head wearily" maneuvers, a solid bro shake with a man I assume is his agent, and even a brow wipe during the interview that may have been designed to show off his watch. But most of the points here are coming from the complicated choreography when his final putt went down. Couldn't be better.
Not only did his wife Kathrine Zhu make the scene, and not only did Morikawa throw his hands out in seeming enthusiasm at seeing her, but they had a solid hug and a chaste but efficient kiss. Plus, the announcers got to say, "first time as husband he's a winner on the PGA Tour!" Great wife work all around. She's pretty much the only show in town, give or take an agent or two, but they make the most of it.
Morikawa is about as smooth as they come, so he's not going to rack up a bunch of points here (remember, in this scale, awkwardness gets rewarded as a fundamental part of golf celebrations). All the handshakes and hugs are pulled off effortlessly, and if I have to pick out one moment where things get a little dicey, it's that maybe he purses his lips for the wife kiss just a fraction too soon at 0:54. The "early purse" is a classic blunder, and he may have fallen into the trap just slightly. Frankly, though, this is a matter of milliseconds, not actual seconds, and it's a huge nitpick. Other than that, you can scour this video with a microscope and you're not going to find much. He's too poised, too elegant, too charismatic, and it costs him dearly here.
Again, we go back to the original putt celebration as the only real moment of calculated theater. He did well there, but we've already rewarded him for it, and we're going to have to take some points off because, again, he didn't have much of a chance for dramatic reactions with such a huge lead.
This was a longer than normal TV interview at three minutes, and there are a few things to notice here. The first is that Morikawa drops a classic "look," to punctuate his thoughts a few times, first at 1:25, as in "look, the game felt really good." He also uses the royal we to describe his game, which has become so ordinary with golfers that it almost passes without comment. He then uses the cliche "you have to take it one shot at a time" at 1:56, but crucially, he recognizes it's a cliche beforehand, which is some good cliche defense. That's proper media poise right there, to tell people you're going to give them the standard answer, but emphasize that the standard answer is the right one. We do have some common phrases following that, like "keep making birdies," but for the most part Morikawa gives some pretty unbelievable content for a format that is most often (let's face it) dreck. He tells Perks how he and Jakovac were grinding on the putting game after the pro-am on Wednesday, and how he texted some friends with inside knowledge about the little tricks of the Japanese greens, and how it all paid off. But it was his answer about the drought that really stood out:
"It's like getting your first win, or your first major ... people start asking questions, and they start asking the why. And I had to really look back and ask myself what's wrong. What's the why? What's the reasoning behind finishing second or fifth versus a win?"
He doesn't actually answer his own question — you can only expect so much from TV — but it's a cool bit of introspection from a guy who has a burgeoning Rory level of eloquence. Great stuff.
10. Opponent Interaction
The other guys in his group are still putting after Morikawa drains his final birdie, and circumstances mean that we never saw his group handshakes on TV. Also, his partners were in the third-to-last group and didn't really have a shot to win, so there was never going to be any consolation (or gloating) here. I'm going to be generous to Morikawa and give him some points here on pure assumption, but he does lose some ground in a category that some of his predecessors, especially Viktor Hovland and Tom Kim, have really cleaned up in.
I'll tell you something: I've seen some great athlete smiles in my day, but Morikawa's smile is up there with the best. It's a versatile smile, too! He can do slyly confident, he can do wan satisfaction, he can do placid contentment, and then, when the moment calls for it, he can flash the pearly whites like he's posing for a photo. But I want to draw your attention to the moment he sees his wife, at 0:47, when he kind of bites his lower lip and unleashes a whole new kind of smile that, as far as I know, might be a look into what the great smiler looks like when the cameras are off. We got a whole new Morikawa smile to add to the genre, which is like discovering a new Beatles song. What a treat.
Overall Score: 67.5/110
Final Analysis: He did not have much to work with, but by doing the little things well, Morikawa racked up a ton of points and put together a pretty great score. Next time, if he can cry in the interview and be a lot more awkward around his wife, he could turn in a truly historic score. What a talent.
Morikawa takes the lead, and it's not even close! Check out the links below for previous installments.