FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – Brooks Koepka has long said he’s inspired by a lack of respect. That’s why he wasn’t bothered when the rowdy New York fans turned on the man who’d been on a virtual victory parade for the past two days.
Koepka started both Saturday and Sunday with a seven-shot lead, but he was just one ahead after he bogeyed Bethpage Black’s shortest hole. The New York fans, who’d been enamored with Brooks and his muscle-bound bravado, now started chanting for the man who’d been his big brother on TOUR.
Koepka was steeled by their lack of loyalty.
“When they started chanting, “DJ,” it actually kind of helped,” he said. “I think that was the best thing that could have happened.”
He responded by piping his drive on the 15th hole, where less than half the field had found the fairway. Making his par, his first since the ninth hole, righted his course.
He played the final four holes in 1 over, a finish that was emblematic of his entire round. It wasn’t pretty but it was enough to get the job done. And that’s all that matters.
History will record his two-shot victory at Bethpage Black and fourth victory in his past eight majors, something that hasn’t been accomplished since the prime of Tiger Woods. Koepka finished at 8-under 272, two shots better than Johnson. He has now won the past two PGA Championships and U.S. Opens.
“Four out of eight,” he said. “I like the way that sounds.”
Koepka once drew inspiration from being golf’s underappreciated champion, but he can’t play that role any longer. Not after what he just did to Bethpage Black.
He is golf’s alpha and it’s not even close. There’s no longer any room for debate. Koepka returned to the top of the world ranking with this win and moved to second in the FedExCup.
He’ll no longer be overlooked. He still could make that claim this week, even though he was the defending champion and winner of three majors in little more than a year. Tiger Woods was the talk of the town after winning the Masters and returning to the site of a previous triumph. They played together in the first two rounds, and all that Koepka did was beat him by 17 shots.
Now Koepka will be the favorite at majors for years to come, no matter what golf’s myriad metrics may say at the time. He said he’ll have no problem finding new sources of inspiration. Like Michael Jordan, he won’t have any trouble finding ways to fire himself up.
“I think every great athlete has a chip,” he said. “It works for me. Why would I stray from that? It’s one of those things that doesn’t need to come from anybody. It can come from me. I can make something up in my own head.”
Koepka can actually gain confidence by staving off a crushing loss. He would have been the first player in PGA TOUR history to lose a seven-shot lead.
“He learned a lot about himself,” said Koepka’s instructor, Claude Harmon III. “He’ll get a lot more out of this than if he had won by 15.”
The scream that he released after holing his final putt showed the stress that he’d been feeling over the final holes. This was the largest celebration that we’ve seen from the stoic Koepka.
“Today was definitely the most satisfying out of all of (the major wins) for how stressful that round was,” Koepka said. “I know for a fact that was the most excited I’ve ever been in my life, there on 18.”
High winds blew Sunday afternoon, making this beefy layout play even longer. The field averaged nearly 2.5 strokes over par on the back nine alone.
“There are two par-5s out here. Today, there were six,” said Koepka’s caddie, Ricky Elliott. The wind blew up to 25 mph and wreaked havoc. It made club selection difficult and blew even short putts off-line.
Now Koepka has a new experience to draw on when he finds himself in contention at another major. He made back-nine birdies to pull away from the field at Erin Hills. Then he had to grind out pars after Tommy Fleetwood posted the target score at Shinnecock Hills. Koepka had to hold off the game’s greatest player at Bellerive.
Koepka is just the 11th player to win four majors before age 30, and the fifth American (Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus and Woods). Koepka was one swing away from adding a green jacket to his collection of oversized silver trophies, as well.
His power game plays well on the game’s toughest layouts. He drives it far and (reasonably) straight. He can gouge iron shots out of the rough and onto the green, an asset that separated Woods from his competition during his best days.
This week, Koepka finished first in both Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and Strokes Gained: Approach.
“He’s just really in control,” said Rory McIlroy. “He’s got the golf ball under control with all aspects of his game, and I think more important than that is his mind is where it needs to be.”
He said his ability to quickly move past mistakes is key to his major success. That skill was helpful in the midst of his struggles late Sunday. Koepka said he wasn’t stressed after making four straight bogeys.
“I never thought about failing,” he said. Elliott kept reminding his boss that, no matter how bad it got, he never lost the lead.
“He’s won another major in different circumstances,” Elliott said. “That’s a tight course off the tee, those were really trying conditions and the best player in the world is one shot behind you after living in the lead all week. He knew what was on the line today.”
And he responded when it mattered most.