June 20, 2019, is already looking like a landmark moment in recent golf history. It was the day when three young men gathered in the suburb of Cromwell, Connecticut, laid their gilded amateur careers to one side, and hit their first shots as professionals.
Sometimes it doesn’t work out. On other occasions it takes a while for young men carrying all sorts of high expectations to find their feet.
Never before have three players turned pro at the same time and delivered to such a rapid extent that all three are already ranked among the world’s top 15.
Collin Morikawa (above), Matt Wolff and Viktor Hovland are on an excellent upward trajectory
Not even a worldwide pandemic could flatten the remarkable upward trajectory of Collin Morikawa, Matt Wolff and Viktor Hovland. Alongside Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson, their efforts represent the most compelling theme of this disrupted golfing year.
Look at the staggering list of achievements they’ve amassed in just 18 months. Six tournament victories between them, including one major for Morikawa. Two top-four finishes in majors for Wolff, the first man to manage that in his first two starts for more than a century.
As for Hovland, he mustered two PGA Tour wins in his first full season and came close to following it with a win in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai this month, despite starting the week with a 28-hour flight. The prize money they’ve accumulated isn’t bad, either. They’re nudging an aggregate of $1million a month, despite the fact none of them picked up a club between March and June.
The trio make for a fascinating mix. Talk to them about each other and they can’t help but smile.
‘We know we’re going to be linked together for the rest of our professional lives,’ Morikawa told Sportsmail.
All three golfers turned professional on the same day as each other back in June 2019
Alongside Bryson DeChambeau their efforts represent the most compelling theme of this year
‘Matt and I were fighting it out for the 3M Championship in Detroit in only our third start last year, and we came down the 18th and started laughing at one another. We just knew it wasn’t going to be the last time in our careers that we’d be battling each other for a title.’
Morikawa has no doubt about the one quality that binds them. ‘If you watch us it becomes clear pretty quickly that we’re all very different golfers,’ he said. ‘But the one thing we all have is that we believe in ourselves. I said that on day one when we turned pro, and it’s why we’ve been able to translate our different games and achieve as much as we have so quickly.’
How would Hovland assess the two Americans? ‘I think it’s cool that their games are so different,’ said the personable 23-year-old from Oslo.
‘Collin is so consistent — he’s always going to be there or thereabouts — while Matt has all the firepower.
‘Matt is also a very good putter, which is something I don’t think he gets enough credit for. But he’s so explosive when he’s on his game. He’s very hard to stop when he’s firing.’
Hovland is probably a mix of the two, and has no doubts that a friendly rivalry that began in college will continue to add fuel to their work.
‘I was actually in the same team as Matt, so we’ve had that rivalry going on for a while now,’ he said.
American golfer Morikawa (above) is the first player since Tiger Woods to complete their first 22 tournaments without a missed halfway cut
Norwegian golfer Hovland (above) mustered two PGA Tour wins in his first full season
‘Naturally as your team-mate you want him to do well, but equally you want to play just that little bit better so you’re the number one. I’d say that’s how it is between the three of us now. We’re friends, but we all want to be the number one.’
At university it was Wolff who was number one on the Oklahoma State team, but Hovland won the US Amateur Championship and was the low amateur at the Masters in 2019. Hovland also beat a scoring record set by Jack Nicklaus, which had stood for almost 60 years, to win the silver medal at the US Open in June that year. The following week, the trio travelled to Connecticut to begin their startling professional journey.
It is Morikawa who will end the year with the broadest smile — but only just. After graduating from Berkeley College, California, he was probably ranked a hair behind the other two on that June day last year but soon stood out for his unerring iron play and remarkable consistency.
Not since Tiger Woods has a player completed his first 22 tournaments without a missed halfway cut. He then became a global star, playing the shot of the year by driving the par-four 16th green to seal victory in the US PGA Championship in San Francisco in August.
As for Wolff, with his unique hitch before he strikes the ball that has already been trademarked, he gave glimpses of his extraordinary power in losing a duel to DeChambeau for the US Open, outdriving the latter by 20 yards on occasion.
Wolff (above) was even able to out drive star golfer Bryson DeChambeau by 20 yards
Meanwhile, Hovland — introduced to the game by his father, who worked in America while Viktor was growing up — is already the best golfer Norway has produced. And he’s only just getting started.
‘It’s all been a bit crazy,’ he conceded. ‘We came out with lots of confidence and expectations but I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say we’ve comfortably exceeded even our highest hopes to this point. It’s important to enjoy it and see how much better we can all become.’
So to 2021. Will there be a reaction, or is this the start of a new Big Three?
Everything we’ve seen so far suggests another vintage year for the trio awaits, including what promises to be a fascinating reunion at the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, Wisconsin, in September.