Is there any end in sight for Brooks Koepka?
Collects fourth major and counting after winning PGA Championship
May 19, 2019
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
Brooks Koepka's approach to 3 feet at PGA Championship
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – It was closer than many expected, this 101st PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, which at times resembled a very slow-moving trophy ceremony.
Still, after weathering four straight back-nine bogeys and a charge by Dustin Johnson (69, 6 under total) that briefly cut the lead to one, Brooks Koepka stabilized and shot a final-round 74 to win by two. He’d done enough over the first three days, which he spent “absolutely destroying this place” (Xander Schauffele) and playing “ridiculous golf” (Rob Labritz).
And now he’s won four majors in 23 months.
“Brooks is young; he might get to double figures,” three-time major winner Padraig Harrington said after missing the cut earlier this week. “It’s a numbers game. He’s young enough that he could do it. Why wouldn’t you talk about getting to 18? He’s cracking them out at a fair pace.”
Koepka, 29, put the lie to his own prediction that the winning score would be around even or a bit better. But he may prove himself right in suggesting before the tournament that he could perhaps get to double digits in major wins. If he keeps this up, he could get there quickly.
The question is whether he will.
“Players drift in and out,” said Harrington, a six-time PGA TOUR winner who won his three majors, the 2007 Open Championship and ’08 Open Championship and PGA Championship, in just 13 months. “Pretty much if you watch everybody’s career, they get about 18 months where they truly peak. Whether they’re 100th in the world and they become 50th, or 50th and it becomes 20th, or 20th and it becomes 10, or 10 becomes 1, I don’t know.”
Until his four back-nine bogeys Sunday, you could count Koepka’s missteps on one hand. He bogeyed the relatively easy first hole to start the final round while playing partner Harold Varner III birdied it to cut the margin to five, but even then there wasn’t much cause for concern.
Johnson shot a 3-under front nine to cut the margin to four, but Koepka hit his approach to 2 ½ feet and birdied the 10th, and it was back to five again. Then came a wild sequence, in swirling winds, as Johnson held steady and Koepka bogeyed holes 11-14. The lead was one.
“DJ, DJ, DJ!” the rowdy Bethpage crowd chanted, awakened by the promise of a tight finish.
Alas, Johnson missed from just under 9 feet and bogeyed 16, then bogeyed 17, too, to give Koepka the cushion he needed to play the last four holes in 1 over and become the first player since Tiger Woods in 2007 to successfully defend his PGA Championship title.
Woods, whom Koepka beat head-to-head by 17 shots over the first two days, was also the last player to win four majors in a span of eight major starts – as Koepka has now done – in 2005 and ’06. But Woods, an 81-time PGA TOUR winner, including 15 majors, has been such an outlier, as Adam Scott reminded at Bethpage, “I think comparing anything to Tiger is a little unfair.”
Nor is it helpful to compare Koepka to Jack Nicklaus, who won 18 majors of a span of 24 years, from the 1962 U.S. Open through the instant-classic ’86 Masters Tournament. Another outlier.
Lee Trevino won four majors from the 1968 U.S. Open through the ’72 Open Championship, roughly four years. He won the ’74 and ’84 PGAs, too, for six majors over 16 years.
More common, especially amongst today’s crop of talented, young players, is the trajectory of Johnny Miller, who won 16 times, including two majors, from the 1973 U.S. Open to the ’76 Open Championship. That was mostly it for him; Miller ended his career with two majors.
Rory McIlroy (69, 1 over total) won 11 times worldwide, including four majors, from 2011 through 2014. Since then, however, he’s gone largely dormant at the biggest tournaments, the glaring exception being his victory at the recent PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
“It’s awesome,” McIlroy said of Koepka’s current run. “It's great to watch.”
Most pros would sooner watch paint dry than another pro play golf on TV, but McIlroy admitted he was done so early he watched a lot of Koepka on TV this weekend. Because when a guy seems to be playing a different golf course than everyone else, it begs the question of how.
Graeme McDowell (70, 5 over) did the same thing.
“I just wanted to see just how these guys were dismantling this golf course,” McDowell said. “When he played 15 the way he played it (Saturday), that kind of summed the course up to me because when I missed 15 fairway, I'm physically incapable of getting to that green in two, and obviously it was a brute-force wedge or 9-iron he hit to 15 feet.”
Bethpage, he added, favored those who could muscle the ball out of the rough.
“That’s why I lift all those weights,” Koepka said with a shrug.
With winning off the table, McIlroy talked about playing for pride, Phil Mickelson (76, 12 over) about working on his game. Matt Wallace (72, 2 under, T3) spoke of being on a quest for world ranking points. FedExCup leader Matt Kuchar (69, 1 over total) remained in pole position.
Koepka’s seven-shot lead through 54 holes was the largest in PGA history. So was his seven-shot lead through 36 holes. He broke the course record with a 63 on Thursday.
Brooks Koepka makes a statement on No. 18 at PGA Championship
Said Tony Finau, Koepka’s partner at the 2018 Ryder Cup in France, “This is not a golf course where in the practice rounds I would have told you anybody’s breaking any kind of record.”
McDowell called the winner perhaps “the next real dominant player.”
We have been here before, most recently with Jordan Spieth (71, 2 under, T3) when he won five times, including two majors and the FedExCup, in 2015. He got his third major at The Open Championship in the summer of ’17. But as with Miller, McIlroy and most others not named Nicklaus, Woods or Trevino, the pace proved unsustainable.
That doesn’t mean Spieth won’t be back, and he showed some positive signs in posting a season-best T3 at Bethpage Black. McIlroy could have a second act. Same for Jason Day, who won seven times, including the 2015 PGA and 2016 PLAYERS Championship, in 17 starts.
“I don’t think he faces too much challenge, to be honest, with the way he’s playing,” Day (72, 4 over total) said of Koepka, “but everything ultimately comes to an end.”
Only three players have reached double digits in majors: Nicklaus (18), Woods (15) and Walter Hagen (11). Koepka, with four, is mowing them down quickly, on very hard courses. He knows he doesn’t have to be perfect, and when he’s not, he can bounce back. Mostly, he knows that if he plays his game, nothing else matters. He said he couldn’t remember any shots hit by Woods or Francesco Molinari after the first two rounds. He’s in his comfort zone.
“Tiger used to say, ‘My B game is good enough to win,” Harrington said. “If you think your B game is good enough to win, your A game will turn up. If you think you need your A game, your B game will turn up. That’s just the way golf is.”
Next up: the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Koepka will be the two-time defending champion there, just as he will be the two-time defending champion at the PGA at Harding Park next year.
Whether it’s New York or California, one suspects that Brooks Koepka, king of the majors, won’t be all that worried about which game will turn up, or much of anything else.