JEJU, South Korea: Collin Morikawa showed why he is one of the leading lights of a new generation of golf stars when he shot a stunning best-of-the-day 65 on Saturday at the CJ Cup.
Morikawa, Im Sung-jae, Matthew Wolff, Viktor Hovland and Joaquin Niemann are all barely in their twenties but are keeping pace with some of the game’s biggest names in Korea this week.
“We feel like we belong and even though we’ve watched all these guys play golf, it finally feels good to play against them and get to know them,” the 22-year-old American Morikawa told AFP after his impressive display.
He closed with a bogey six in a seven-under par third round liberally sprinkled with nine birdies that took him to nine-under for the tournament and a tie for seventh place.
“I think the reason why we turned pro at the times we did is that we felt ready,” he added of the young brigade who are taking the US PGA Tour by storm week-in, week-out.
Morikawa was runner-up to 20-year-old US compatriot Wolff at the 3M Open at the beginning of July and later that month won his first PGA Tour event at the Barracuda Championship.
“Obviously it all happened really quickly,” Wolff told AFP, before struggling to a six-over 78 that left him in 76th place. “Last year I watched this event in Stillwater, Oklahoma at college, on my couch.
“To be able to be playing in it against all these amazing players in a place like South Korea, I’m just kind of pinching myself.”
Chile’s Niemann is also just 20 and took his maiden PGA Tour win at the Greenbrier last month. He is tied 18th in the elite 78-player field at seven-under par after a 71 on Saturday.
“There’s more people I can hang out with who are my age,” said Niemann about his life on the globetrotting Tour.
“So makes it a lot more fun and interesting, and also because they’re really good players.”
Norway’s Hovland, 22, has this week set a PGA Tour record for most consecutive rounds in the sixties and earlier this year broke Jack Nicklaus’s record for the lowest score by an amateur at the US Open.
“It’s cool to kind of be a part of history,” said the Norwegian after the 19-round streak ended with a 74 on Saturday to leave him tied 33rd at four-under par.
“Bottom line is I just try to shoot as low as I can and try to win a golf tournament.”
Im, the first Asian to be named US PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, has been a darling of the Korean media at the CJ Cup, which is being played on his home course at Nine Bridges on Jeju Island.
He goes into Sunday at five-under par in a share of 26th place after a third-round 70.
Still only 21, he had seven top-10s and was the only rookie to qualify in the 30-man field for the season-long FedEx Cup finale, the Tour Championship.
Im was presented with the 2019 Rookie of the Year award before play got under way this week.
“I went to a practice range and many people recognised me,” he said. “It is different from last year. Now when I go to a golf course people recognise me.”
All are wildly talented, and all have a fearlessness that come with youth. It remains to be seen if any will go on to win majors.
But if Morikawa’s determination is anything to go by, that could well come sooner rather than later for some of them.
“We’ve been very fortunate but you know, we were ready to come out here and win,” said Morikawa.
“You know I’ve done it, Matthew’s done it, Sung-jae’s right there, Viktor’s right there so it’s gonna be really fun, especially when we know we’re able to play with each other.
“It’s exciting.” - AFP