Ranking the seven golf majors of 2020-21 from Phil Mickelson’s historic win to Collin Morikawa’s double

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The golf major season is over. Not just the 2021 season, but the entire seven-majors-in-11-months extravaganza has ended with Collin Morikawa’s victory at the 149th Open Championship. It was a bookend to the way it started last August when Morikawa took the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park. He made an entire career in just 11 months.

After the PGA Tour returned amid the COVID-19 pandemic last summer, and as the majors started announcing when their championships would be held, it became clear that the next year of major championship golf would be as compact and wild as it has ever been. That mostly played out among the seven majors as we got six world-class champions and innumerable memorable moments.

Since we’re at the very end of this bananas run, I thought it would be fun to look back and rank the seven majors we’ve had in the last 11 months by how good and memorable they were. It’s hard to believe that this time a year ago we were sitting here discussing everything that could take place. Now it’s all over. Every shot has been hit. There are no major championships for nine more months. As sad as that it is, we still have the previous seven to dissect, overreact to and discuss until then. Let’s get started.

1. 2021 PGA Championship 

This one is so easily No. 1, and the weekend alone could be No. 2. Phil Mickelson’s win over Louis Oosthuizen and Brooks Koepka felt the most surreal of all seven as it was unfolding. Most of the time when watching major championships, the thought is, “Oh, this has been great. I’ll remember this one for a long time.” This week, though? The thought was, “Wow, there are going to be books written about what I’m watching right now.” The result still doesn’t make sense and likely never will. Sometimes, that makes for an unmemorable major. When one of the 10 best golfers in the history of the sport is involved, though, it makes it the major of the year by a standard deviation.

There are a million things that could be said about this week from Kiawah itself (off-the-charts good) to the reigniting of the Bryson DeChambeau-Brooks Koepka feud. But the lasting image for me will be the 18th on Sunday. Mickelson had just got done making a bogey on the 17th after changing his putting grip mid-championship (normal), and that entire 15 minutes on the final hole is embossed onto the strip of film running through my head forever. The drone shots of everyone, after most of a year with no fans at majors, closing in on Mickelson. The double fist pump he gave after hitting his approach. The Atlantic Ocean framing the entire thing, and Mickelson warding off the night with one last impossible ascent. Transcendent major championships don’t happen all that often, but we’ve gotten two in the last three years.

2. 2021 Open Championship

This one found its soul early, and I’m probably inflating it a bit because 1) It just happened, 2) I hadn’t watched links golf in two years, 3) It involved four major winners on a Sunday at a great course and 4) Jordan Spieth was involved. I’m naturally biased toward Opens because I think they’re the most fun viewing experience and produce the best champions. In reality, you could rank any of the five in the middle of this list at No. 2, and I would at least listen to the argument.

For me, the breadth of the week was good enough to overwhelm what was not an amazing closing stretch. If the result there is an average winner then it probably doesn’t get ranked this high, but the result was not an average winner. It was the emergence of maybe the best ball-striker on earth in Collin Morikawa, who held off three other major champions to win the first Open he’s ever played. That narrowly edges the next four.

Rick Gehman is joined by Kyle Porter, Mark Immelman and Greg DuCharme to break down and react to Collin Morikawa’s victory at the 2021 Open Championship. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

3. 2021 U.S. Open

This felt a bit like the 2013 Masters. The ending was as good as professional golf can possibly be, but I’m not sure about the rest of it. One of the problems with ranking these majors is that we tend to overvalue the ending. The last nine holes of a tournament at a course that produces a bunched leaderboard oftentimes makes the entire tournament — and week — seem better than it actually was in reality. That’s how I feel about the 2021 U.S. Open vs. the 2021 Open Championship. The U.S. Open produced a far better ending, but was it a better overall championship and tournament? Was it more enjoyable from start to finish? I don’t really think so.

On the flip side, it is hard to imagine a better last few hours of a tournament! The leaderboard was good but not great for 63 holes, and then it suddenly looked like a hall-of-fame induction ceremony. That last nine covered over a multitude of sins throughout the week, and gave us both two enduring fist pumps from Jon Rahm as well as a 44 from the reigning champion.

4. 2020 PGA Championship

This was a prelude to the 2021 U.S. Open. A good but not amazing West Coast course that produced fun primetime golf. A solid first three days that led into a chaotic last three hours where it felt like any of about 11 guys could win the tournament. The 2020 PGA produced an iconic shot — Morikawa’s drive on the par-4 16th that led to eagle and the win — and that closing stretch was fun as hell after going over a year with no major championships at all. This one will age pretty well if Morikawa keeps winning.

Collin Morikawa captured the first of his two major titles at TPC Harding Park in August 2020.  Getty Images

5. 2021 Masters

This was the one I struggled with the most. It was not a dramatic Masters because Hideki Matsuyama was relentlessly good from Saturday afternoon to the conclusion. But it also produced two iconic shots when Matsuyama’s caddie bowed to the course and then Matsuyama, ever stoic, ever serene, broke on the walk from the 18th green to the scoring hut. Just broke. It’s difficult for us to comprehend what that win meant (and will mean) because it’s difficult for him to comprehend, but that 15-minute stretch felt a lot bigger than golf and sport. Though the entirety of the tournament was not one of the better Masters ever, it’s hard to think of any singular moments in the last several decades that are much better than those.

6. 2020 U.S. Open

This one is tough because it produced one of the least exciting Sundays of the last few years, but it also serves as an inflection point for the entire sport. If and when sweeping equipment changes come to golf, it will not be difficult to follow their tracks back to Winged Foot. This U.S. Open will not be the genesis for change, but it will be a big part of the story. In that sense, Bryson DeChambeau did two things. He proved, to himself and to us, that what he’s doing works and he shined a spotlight into a future that I’m not sure anyone wants to exist. This may have actually been the most historically meaningful major championship of all seven, but it was not the most memorable.

7. 2020 Masters

This is a clear No. 7 for me. It was memorable in that it was bizarre and one for which I’ll never forget being in attendance, but it was the least dramatic of all seven majors. Maybe that’s because it was patron-free and the weekend had no juice at all. Maybe it’s because Dustin Johnson did the thing where he makes you wonder how he could conceivably ever not win a golf tournament. Perhaps it got a little buried by football and the holidays. Probably all of the above. I’ll remember D.J. being flawless for 72 straight holes and finally cracking when it all came washing over him in the post-round interview with Amanda Balionis. I’ll remember being one of five people watching Rory McIlroy play an actual competitive round at Augusta National. I’ll remember going nine practice holes with Tiger Woods and a handful of other folks. I’ll remember how strange all of it was, but I won’t remember much else.