Brooks Koepka had not only dominated Bethpage Black he had trivialized it.
Imagine this: Koepka tied the PGA Championship record with a first-round 63. And he broke the major championship record for 36 holes at 128. He was sailing.
But even after slamming the competition over the first 64 holes last weekend, the inevitable blip that turns champions into duffers at some point every weekend caught up to him.
With a seven-stroke lead and what seemed like a leisurely spin down the backstretch, Koepka, in the face of strong winds, finally began to falter, bogeying four straight holes (11-14), watching his lead dwindle to one stroke over the charging Dustin Johnson.
If things didn’t resolve quickly he’d run the risk of becoming the first player to lose a seven-stroke lead on the final day of a PGA Tour event.
“I wasn’t nervous,” he said. “I was in shock of what was going on.”
Instead of allowing the slide to continue, Koepka applied the breaks starting on 15 just as Johnson’s charge was slowing with two bogeys on his final three holes.
And that is why Koepka won his second straight PGA, shooting eight-under-par 272, two strokes better than Johnson. Koepka and Tiger Woods are the only ones to win consecutive PGA titles since the tournament moved to stroke play in 1958.
“I’m just glad I don’t have to play any more holes,” Koepka said. “That was a stressful round of golf. I’m glad to have this thing back in my hands.”
After basking for a month in Tiger Woods’ victory at The Masters, and gazing at the struggles that caused him to miss the cut last weekend, the golf world welcomed its new No. 1 player.
Not only that, but Koepka joined Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only golfers to win four majors in less than two years. Koepka had also won two straight U.S. Open titles.
“Today was definitely the most satisfying out of all of them for how stressful that round was – how stressful D.J. made that,” Koepka said. “I know for a fact that was the most excited I’ve ever been in my life there on 18.”
How tough were the conditions on Sunday. Harold Varner III, who was paired with Koepka on Sunday, destructed by shooting an 81. So bad were the winds that even the CBS blimp had to be grounded. So you can image how difficult it was for even the world’s best golfers to position the little dimpled ball.
The end wasn’t as easy at the beginning for Koepka. The gallery surrounding him made it clear it was looking for drama, chanting Johnson’s name while Koepka was fading.
“It’s New York,” Koepka said. “What do you expect when you’re half-choking it away?”
Instead of rattling him, instead of submitting to the only golfer to shoot under par (69) among the final 12 groups on Sunday, the noise galvanized Koepka’s emotions and he recovered.
Koepka isn’t the easiest guy in the world to root for. He is not one to show his feelings on the course. You won’t see him pumping his fists in delight or holding his club over his head in despair.
“If I would have bogeyed all the way in, I still would have looked at it like I tried my hardest. Sometimes, that’s all you’ve got,” Koepka said.
The reality is that Koepka is among the game’s great players and he has given no one reason to doubt might be the world’s best. The thing with him is, he often saves his best performances to the majors. He can be alarming inconsistent at any other point on the tour. He has won only two tournaments other than majors.
“He obviously gets into these mind-sets in the majors, and he really goes and gets into a different sort of state,” Rory McIlroy said.
Koepka won for the fourth time in his last eight major championships. He is the first to hold back-to-back titles in two majors at the same time. Only seven other players have won at least one major in three straight season since the Masters was first played in 1934. Koepka is also the first to lead from the start and finish at the end since Hal Sutton in 1983
The New York Times asked Jason Day whether he or any other golfer feared Koepka the way they might Hogan, Palmer, Nicklaus or Woods had they built such an imposing lead over the final 18.
“Tiger is really the only guy. Brooks is starting to put himself in that category, but really, there’s only a few guys that when they’re at the top of the leaderboard, you can’t catch them,” Day said.
“But no, not right now. If Brooks keeps doing what he’s doing, then definitely it will have impact on all of us.”