The headline in The Guardian on Monday did not mince its words: ‘Koepka lifts US PGA to become first LIV player to win a major’. And so he did. Brooks Koepka got home at Oak Hill in the USPGA Championship by two shots from Viktor Hovland and Scottie Scheffler. He is therefore currently the second LIV Golfer to possess one; Cameron Smith won the Open last summer before jumping to the Saudi-backed LIV Golf in the autumn.
This was Koepka’s fifth win in a major championship (US Open in 2017 and 2018; PGA 2018, 2019 & 2023). Put one way, he started collecting them three years after Rory McIlroy won his last one and he’s now overtaken him. As far as he’s concerned, No. 5 should have come at the Masters last month when Jon Rahm overtook him on Sunday. “It’s choking, right?” Koepka asked rhetorically before the off at Oak Hill. “If you have a lead overnight and cough it up, that’s choking. I reflected all Sunday night. I didn’t sleep. I thought about it for a few days and honed in on what I was doing and what went wrong.” He apparently figured that he had that day worked on not losing rather than going out and winning. “Never let it happen again.” Last Sunday, he emphatically did not.
He has fought back from a horrific knee injury caused by a fall at home in 2021 which led to a lot of bad golf, which in turn led to him being seduced by the financial offers from LIV. He admits to having contemplated quitting the game altogether. He also admitted at Augusta that part of the appeal of LIV, vast amounts of money aside, was that a reduced tournament schedule would help with his recovery. “The whole goal is to win the Grand Slam, right?”
When Koepka finished second at Augusta, that elevated him from 118th to 39th in the Official World Golf Ranking. His victory at Oak Hill lifted him from 44th to 13th. (He had, of course, as a LIV golfer banned from the PGA Tour, been ineligible to earn any ranking points in the meantime.) He got some boos during the week, notably on the first tee on Saturday and presumably because of him being a LIV player, which was unseemly and ultimately futile. Although I’m not sure if it’s quite as futile as the perspective of the US Ryder Cup captain for the match in Rome in September given that Koepka is now second on the automatic qualifying places for the American team.
Zach Johnson seemed startled that anyone might think he would be considering having any LIV players among his dozen men for the match. “It’s too premature and frankly irresponsible to have an opinion on that right now,” he said. Koepka has made it plain he would like to be there. Rather archly, Phil Mickelson, a fellow LIV player, said last week: “I don’t see how it’s any concern of the PGA of America on what tour we play.” Still, if the US Ryder Cup captain wants to play ostriches, then I suppose it’s appropriate there is a sand-ridden desert entity involved.
Koepka’s title was effectively sealed on Sunday when he birdied the par-four 16th while his playing partner, Hovland, took six. Just like that, Koepka had a four-shot lead. He then bogeyed 17 while Scheffler birdied 18, as did Hovland a short time later, but that only served to suggest it was closer than it was. The 33-year-old had won his third major championship in New York state.
The only golfers still playing who have more than five majors are Mickelson, who won this championship two years ago aged 52 (Koepka had tied for second), who has six; and Tiger Woods, who has 15, although it’s not perhaps accurate to say he’s ‘still playing’. In addition to his five victories, since he started winning majors - at the 2017 US Open - Koepka has had nine other top-10 finishes, three of them in the Open. While it is likely he will start favourite for the US Open which begins on June 15, absolutely do not rule him out for Hoylake either.
Finally, last year Koepka told the Full Swing documentary series on Amazon: “I go back to the last major I won [in 2019]…I’d pay back every dollar I’ve ever made in this game just to have that feeling again, like for another hour.” Hyperbole, I am sure, if a very dramatic example, but I guess Brooks has just found that feeling again.
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