SANDWICH, England — Collin Morikawa was making one of the most satisfying walks in golf, down the 18th fairway as an imminent British Open champion, when he looked up at the huge grandstand surrounding the green.
It was filled with spectators, who first applauded and soon after gave a standing ovation to a 24-year-old American making a historic start to his major championship career. Sunday's scene was remarkably different than the one 11 months earlier when Morikawa earned his first major victory — the PGA Championship — at an empty venue as spectators weren't allowed at San Francisco's TPC Harding Park due to coronavirus restrictions.
"I hope the thing is off the table," Morikawa said, "that I can play with fans and I can play well on a Sunday."
Fans. No fans. Traditional tree-lined course. Now even seaside links. Morikawa is the real deal, make no mistake.
Again showing maturity beyond his years, the California native closed with a bogey-free, 4-under-par 66 at Royal St. George's Golf Club and won the British Open in his first try Sunday, becoming the first player to capture two different majors on the first attempt. And this time there was a crowd, at 32,000 the biggest since golf returned during the coronavirus outbreak.
After tapping in for par to win by two shots over fellow American Jordan Spieth, who fell short in his bid for a fourth major title before his 28th birthday, Morikawa gave a fist pump before applauding the spectators.
Before long, he was being handed the claret jug that so many go their entire career without winning. He gazed adoringly at it, then thrust it into the air and gave it a kiss.
"Those are the moments, the few seconds that you embrace so much," he said. "And you look around, every seat is packed, everywhere is packed with people."
They saw a young player already halfway to the career Grand Slam after eight starts, the first since Bobby Jones in 1926 to win two majors in so few appearances. He follows Gene Sarazen, Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Spieth in winning multiple majors before turning 25.
His total of 15-under 265 was a 72-hole record in 15 British Opens at Royal St. George's. In 13 of them, the winning score has been 5 under or lower.
"When you make history, it's hard to grasp, it's hard to really take it in," he said, "... At 24 years old, it's so hard to look back at the two short years that I have been a pro and see what I've done because I want more."
Baylor School graduate Harris English tied for 46th at par after closing with a 68 in which he made three of his four birdies in the round during the final six holes.
Morikawa forged this title with style amid immaculate weather on the links off Sandwich Bay, flushing shots with his irons and getting up and down on the rare occasions he found trouble. He called his putting display one of the best of his short career, turning a statistical weakness into a strength.
After starting the final round one shot behind Louis Oosthuizen, Morikawa was tied for the lead after four holes and then made three straight birdies on Nos. 7-9 to overtake the 38-year-old South African, who hadn't trailed since the 12th hole of his second round.
Morikawa made key par saves — pumping his fist both times — at Nos. 10 and 15, between which he rolled a birdie putt up and over a ridge and into the cup on the 14th to build a two-stroke lead he never lost. Spieth parred his final four holes and also shot a 66.
By closing with a par after another perfect drive, Morikawa played his final 31 holes without a bogey on a course that has confounded many great players because of its quirky bounces and undulating fairways.
All the more remarkable was that this was his first major test on a seaside links. Morikawa had little experience with this style of golf before playing the Scottish Open one week earlier at the Renaissance Club, which is not a traditional links but featured the kind of tight lies and rolling terrain that prepared him for it. He even had three new irons in his bag at Royal St. George's.
He completed a feat achieved by Ben Curtis on the same course in 2003, winning golf's oldest championship in his links debut.
For Oosthuizen, who was seeking a wire-to-wire win and a second claret jug — he had a runaway victory at St. Andrews in 2010 — it was another major heartbreak in a career full of them. He was runner-up this year at the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open, two of his six second-place finishes at majors.
This time Oosthuizen tied for third with reigning U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm (66) after closing with a 71 — his first round not in the 60s at this year's tournament. He never recovered from losing his lead with an ugly bogey on the par-5 seventh hole. He caught way too much ball out of the greenside bunker with his third shot, which bounced onto the putting surface and landed in a bunker on the other side.
Morikawa made a routine birdie on the hole to move two ahead of Oosthuizen. Spieth had made an eagle at No. 7 a few minutes earlier.
"Well I do know one thing, the fans at the Open are second (or third) to none," Oosthuizen wrote on Twitter, having declined to talk to reporters. "Thank you for the incredible support this week, and congrats to Collin Morikawa who played with class and grit today."
Spieth had his closest call in a major since winning the British Open in 2017 at Royal Birkdale. Missing an eight-foot par putt at No. 4 and hitting his tee shot into a bunker at No. 6 led to dropped shots. He made up for those with his eagle and played the final 10 holes in 4 under.
"I did everything I could in the past few hours to win this championship," Spieth said.
It was his bogey-bogey finish Saturday — he missed a two-foot par putt on the 18th — that Spieth regretted most.
"Had I finished par-par, I'd have been in the final group," he said. "And if you're in the final group, you feel like you have control."