Young guns

PGA Championship 2020: Three players in the top five at TPC Harding Park share this golf bond

1264733933

Jamie Squire

Scottie Scheffler sits one shot off the lead entering the final round of the 2020 PGA, just his second pro start in a major.

Young guns contending in—not to mention winning—major championships has become more common in recent years. Six of the last 12 majors and 13 of the last 24 have been won by 20-year-olds. But that doesn’t make it any less remarkable an accomplishment, which is why a look at the leader board heading into Sunday at the PGA Championship generates surprise and a shrug in the very same glance.

Veteran Dustin Johnson, the old head at age 36, leads at nine under. One stroke back, however, are a pair of nascent tour pros—Scottie Scheffler (24) and Cameron Champ (25)—who only recently were college rivals playing at Texas and Texas A&M, respectively.

Meanwhile, two shots back in a tie for fourth sits Collin Morikawa. The 23-year-old shot a five-under 65 at TPC Harding Park on Saturday, putting himself in position to win in his first major start as a professional.

You are using an unsupported version of Internet Explorer. Please upgrade to Internet Explorer 11 or use a different web browser.

Seeing any of the three names in contention makes sense given their early success as professionals. Champ, a Sacramento, Calif., native is a two-time PGA Tour winner, most recently having claimed the Safeway Open title in nearby Napa last October. Scheffler was the 2019 Korn Ferry Tour player of the year who has had two third-place finishes, four top 10s and nine top 25s in 19 starts during his COVID-19 interrupted rookie season on the PGA Tour.

And in just 14 months as a professional, Morikawa has won two PGA Tour titles, missed one cut in 26 starts and already sits 12th on the World Ranking.

Morikawa’s success at Harding Park appears the most logical. He went to school across the bay at Cal-Berkley, graduating in 2019, and has a familiarity with the municipal course from having practiced and competed there on several occasion while in college. That said, Harding Park in major conditions is a unique challenge.

“This course is playing very different than I've ever seen it,” Morikawa said. “I've never seen rough on this course. Some of the tees we really never played. We never really tipped it out during qualifying. Stanford hosted their event here one year because they did some redesigns on their course, but they never tipped it out. We are not going to be playing 480-, 500-yard par 4s in college.”

Beyond just their youth, the trio has another intriguing bond that many on social media noted on Saturday night. All three were members of the 2017 U.S. Walker Cup team that romped to a 19-7 victory at LACC. That roster also included Maverick McNealy, Doc Redman and Doug Ghim, each also currently holding PGA Tour cards.

845440036

Robert Laberge

Team USA captain John "Spider" Miller, Maverick McNealy, Will Zalatoris, Stewart Hagestad, Norman Xiong, Cameron Champ, (Bottom L-R) Braden Thornberry, Doc Redman, Collin Morikawa, Scottie Scheffler, and Doug Ghim pose with the Walker Cup Trophy after winning in 2017.

Johnson, mind you, has a Walker Cup appearance on his resume as well, having played on a 2007 team at Royal County Down that included Webb Simpson, Rickie Fowler, Billy Horschel, Chris Kirk, Kyle Stanley and Jamie Lovemark.

76611744

David Cannon

The victorious 2007 American team with the Walker Cup: kneeling Jonathan Moore, Billy Horschell, Rickie Fowler, Colt Knost, (standing) Chris Kirk, Dustin Johnson, Kyle Stanley, Buddy Marucci (captain), Webb Simpson, Jamie Lovemark and Trip Kuehne

Many thought of recent U.S. squads, the 2007 edition had the best track record as pros. But give the 2017 team some time and it just might give its older peers a good fight.