All Hail "King" Koepka

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M. James Ward assesses the resurrection of the now five-time major winner and how his 3rd PGA Championship victory now places him in rarified air among the upper elite in golf.
Posted on
May 23, 2023
M. James Ward in ,
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Rochester, NY. After Brooks Koepka won his fourth major in 23 months when winning the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black it looked clear to all the Floridian was going to add more major hardware in the years to follow.

Then debilitating injuries happened.

Most notably to his hip and knee and complicated by a rush to return to competition. The free fall for Koepka caused him to have serious doubts on whether he would be able to return to the world class level golf he had previously demonstrated.

Those doubts were moved to his rear-view mirror when he won his 5th major title and 3rd Wannamaker Trophy at the PGA Championship at Oak Hill CC by two shots over Scottie Scheffler and Viktor Hovland.

Koepka had stated he had learned a crucial lesson when losing The Masters this past April to Jon Rahm. Entering the final round at Augusta with a two-shot lead, it was Koepka who imploded. Going into the final round at Oak Hill, the 33-year-old stated he would not make the same mistake again and his play at the PGA Championship for the final 54 holes showed conclusively his determination to do just that. His conviction backed up by scores of 66-66-67.

Since the PGA Championship switched formats to a 72-hole stroke play event in 1958, Koepka now only trails Jack Nicklaus (5) and Tiger Woods (4) in wins in the event.

More importantly, the accomplishment of winning this 5th major places him alongside three other players of note from the modern era, Byron Nelson, Peter Thomson and Seve Ballesteros. That's heady stuff.

"It's just tough to really grasp the situation kind of while you're still in it, I think. I mean, probably when I'm retired and I can look back with Jena and my son and kind of reflect on all that stuff, that will be truly special, but right now I'm trying to collect as many of these things as I can. We'll see how it goes," said Koepka.

Nonetheless, the pride in returning to the top of the pecking order in the biggest of events was certainly front and center as it should be.

"It feels damned good. Yeah, this one if definitely special," said Koepka. "I think this is probably the most meaningful of them all with everything that's gone on, all the crazy stuff over the last few years. But it feels good to be back and to get number five."

Koepka started strong with birdies on three of the first four holes. But back-to-back bogeys at the demanding par 6th-and 7th holes brought back into play those chasing him.

The crucial moment came at the par-5 13th. Hovland's fine approach was backed-up by a 15-foot putt for birdie. Koepka faced a 10-foot putt for par and the possibility of a two-shot swing occurring with the two being tied with five holes to play was now certainly possible.

All Hail "King" Koepka
(Photo by Darren Carroll/PGA of America)

Koepka had other plans. Making the putt and securing a lead he never relinquished.

But, like other champions before him, it was taking the pain of recent failure at Augusta and using that as a learning mechanism that proved the ultimate difference,

"I've always learned more from the four times I finished second than, I guess, the five times I've won now. I think failure is how you learn. You get better from it. You realize what mistakes you've made. Each time I've kind of made an adjustment. It's more mentality than it is anything. It's not really golf swing or anything like that. You're going to play how you play, but mentally you can kind of figure things out, and I'm always trying to get better. Just trying to find that different little edge just to poke and try inside my head. Really, I think the big key is just being open and honest with yourself, and if you can do that, you'll be miles ahead of everybody else."

When Koepka opted to join LIV in June 2022 after stating such a move would not be for him there were serious questions on whether he would be able return to the form he had shown in his four earlier major wins. Did Brooks just take the easy money grab being provided by the Saudis and was his time in the spotlight going to fade away?

While acknowledging the win makes him the first LIV player to secure a Grand Slam title the main focus was on dealing with the matters faced at Oak Hill.

"I definitely think it helps LIV, but I'm more interested in my own self right now, to be honest with you. Yeah, it's a huge thing for LIV, but at the same time I'm out here competing as an individual at the PGA Championship. I'm just happy to take this home for the third time."

(Photo by Darren Carroll/PGA of America)

Koepka displays a strong and silent type approach. Well respected by his peers in being able to rise his play when the most pressure-packed moments arise. On the fan side he has not engendered the fan adulation of an Arnold Palmer or Ballesteros but his relentless march to the winner's circle has mirrored the pattern set by Nicklaus and Woods.

The Golden Bear during his rival moments with Palmer was quick to say he simply put blinders on, never allowing any distractions to derail his efforts or losing his focus in accomplishing what he sought to achieve.

While all the pre-PGA Championship focus was on the ongoing tussle between Rahm and Scheffler at the top of the world rankings, it was Koepka who reinforced the unassailable fact that when his game is on, he is the man to beat in the biggest of events.

Even without the benefit of world ranking points which LIV players do not receive, Koepka climbs back to the 13th ranked position. He also brings to the forefront a critical question the PGA of America and USA Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson now must face. Will a LIV player be picked for the matches played later this year in Rome?

It's hard to envision Koepka being left off the squad now but no decision is final till it's final. Given the pressure that comes with any Ryder Cup match, the stated goal to have the best USA squad ready to secure a team win for the first time in Europe since 1993 will mean a team that includes Brooks.

The amazing ascension of Koepka goes back to his earliest days when beginning the arduous journey to compete at the highest of levels in professional golf.

(Photo by Darren Carroll/PGA of America)

Koepka challenged himself initially, heading to Europe without any status on the professional tours. The climb, based mainly on his drive to compete, producing the needed scores to separate himself from the competition. It is that internal passion that has been the fueling agent for his career.

"It's so cool to look back at where I've come, traveling. I remember back to The Challenge Tour days, going to Kenya, Kazakhstan, and all those cool places and getting to see the world. Yeah, to be out here now and win five major championships is pretty incredible."

To place things in perspective the win at Oak Hill marks the 3rd major title Koepka has won in New York - the other two coming at the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills and the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage / Black.

In the lyrics of "New York, New York", Frank Sinatra sang, "If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere". Words that resonate with Brooks.

"Like I said, I love New York. It's treated me pretty well. Three of the five have been in New York, so I'll come back any time (smiling).

All hail King Koepka.


PGA Championship / Brooks Koepka


Including this year, four of the last five PGA Championship winners now have had a winning score that was single digits under par

Koepka (2019 at Bethpage State Park, -8), Mickelson (2021 at Kiawah Island, -6), Thomas (2022 at Southern Hills, -5) and Koepka (2023 at Oak Hill, -9).

Just prior to this stretch (2012-2018), the PGA Championship winner had a score that was 10 or more under par in six out of seven years, with an average score relative to par of -14.  That includes a PGA Championship record-setting -20 score by Jason Day at Whistling Straits in 2015.

Player ages at the time of the 5th major win

Player Year 5th Major Years-Days
Tiger Woods 2000 PGA Championship 24-234
Jack Nicklaus 1966 Masters Tournament 26-080
Bobby Jones 1929 U.S. Open Championship 27-044
Gene Sarazen 1932 U.S. Open Championship 30-119
Seve Ballesteros 1988 Open Championship 31-099
Walter Hagen 1924 Open Championship 31-189
Tom Watson 1981 Masters Tournament 31-220
Arnold Palmer 1962 Masters Tournament 32-210
Gary Player 1968 Open Championship 32-255
Brooks Koepka 2023 PGA Championship 33-018
Harry Vardon 1903 Open Championship 33-032
Byron Nelson 1945 PGA Championship 33-161
Lee Trevino 1974 PGA Championship 34-253
Nick Faldo 1992 Open Championship 35-001
Peter Thomson 1965 Open Championship 35-320
Ben Hogan 1951 Masters Tournament 38-238
Sam Snead 1951 PGA Championship 39-037
James Braid 1910 Open Championship 40-135
John Henry Taylor 1913 Open Championship 42-097
Phil Mickelson 2013 Open Championship 43-035

Final 54 Holes Scoring

Score To Par Champion R2 R3 R4 Year Club
195 -15 Brooks Koepka 63 66 66 2018 Bellerive CC
198 -12 Collin Morikawa 69 65 64 2020 TPC Harding Park
199 -14 Steve Elkington 67 68 64 1995 Riviera CC
199 -11 David Toms 65 65 69 2001 Atlanta AC
199 -11 Brooks Koeka 66 66 67 2023 Oak Hill CC

Compiled by Elias Sports Bureau, Inc.

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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