King Koepka

Defends PGA title, earns 4th major at brutal Bethpage Black

Brooks Koepka poses with the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the US PGA Championship (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Brooks Koepka poses with the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the US PGA Championship (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

FARMINGDALE, NY. Major championships are the barometer by which careers are judged and for Brooks Koepka the modus operandi is straightforward — he steps up big time when called upon.

Koepka added another dimension to his growing reputation in winning the 101st PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.

Consider the following:

*Koepka becomes only the second golfer to defend his PGA Championship title since the event went to stroke play in 1958. The first? Tiger Woods. Doing it twice in 1999-2000 and ’06-’07.

*He is just the 5th golfer to win the event wire-to-wire — the last coming in 1983 from Hal Sutton.

*He returns to the number one spot in the world rankings.

*Koepka has won four of the last eight majors played and was in the mix at this year’s Masters losing by just one stroke to Woods.

*He joins an elite club of Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in winning four majors before turning 30.

*Has won at least one major a year in the last three years. Since the Masters started in 1934 the only players to do so include: Woods, Phil Mickelson, Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Peter Thomson and Ralph Guldahl.

*Koepka by winning the last two PGAs is the first player in golf history to be a two-time defending champion in two major championships at the same time.

*He broke the course record at Bethpage Black with a first round 63 — tying the all-time low 18 in the PGA Championship. He is also the first person to have posted 63s in consecutive years in major championships having done so when winning the PGA at Bellerive last year.

*Koepka’s 36-hole total of 128 set the all-time mark for the first two rounds in a major championship — breaking the previous mark of 130.

*Incredibly, Koepka has won more majors than regular PGA Tour victories — a margin of four to two respectively.

Four holes to watch at Bethpage Black - US PGA Championship
15th hole, © Carly Grenfell (PGA of America)

The bottom line is that golf has just four major championships — and being ready at those times is what defines one’s place in the grand scheme of things. Consider Dustin Johnson. DJ had narrowed the lead to just one shot after birdieing the demanding par-4 15th.

But a misjudged approach shot at the 16th led to bogey and he compounded the error in making another bogey at the par-3 17th. When he needed to put just one more ounce of pressure on a teetering Koepka it was DJ failing to play the right music at crunch time. Johnson has 20 wins on the PGA Tour with just one major — the ’16 US Open. Given what Bethpage showed — whose record and what golfer would you take? The choice is obvious. DJ has an abundance of talent — but execution at the most critical of moments is the ultimate separator. 

Dustin Johnson reacts after sinking a putt on the third green during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament, Sunday, May 19, 2019, at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, N.Y. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Dustin Johnson reacts after sinking a putt during the final round of the PGA Championship (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Having the lead for an entire championship is no easy task. Making matters more trying was the blustery conditions players encountered throughout the final round. Koepka had seemed impervious to it all through 64 holes with a six shot lead. Four consecutive bogies beginning at the 11th hole changed the dynamics and it’s to the 29-year-old’s considerable credit he righted the ship with a resounding effort at the demanding par-4 15th and 16th holes — with the latter playing as the most difficult hole on the final round. In golf, turning matters around is no small task. Only the great ones do that. 

The king’s crown in golf is never a settled matter and can easily fall from one person’s head and placed on another. Koepka stated he sees no reason why he can’t reach double digit victories in majors. While that task in no small matter to accomplish, no one in the media room is laughing that it’s beyond his reach.

Brooks Koepka prepares to putt on the 18th green (Seth Wenig/AP)
Brooks Koepka prepares to putt on the 18th green (Seth Wenig/AP)

What we learned from the PGA Championship is a few things.

*Despite all the hype surrounding Tiger Woods coming into the event with his first competitive appearance since his Masters win was that Tiger looked like an aging 43 years old in missing the cut for just his 9th time in a major event. His driving was atrocious and frankly he needed a compass to find fairways. Unless he can change that dynamic on a far more consistent level – it’s hard to envision Woods being in the mix at other major championships save for the likes of Augusta National and its generously wide fairways.

*Rory McIlroy earned a back door tie for 8th place but once again the Northern Irishman was too little too late. Having not won a major since 2014 the reality is that Rory’s story is getting all too familiar. There are two majors left with the US Open at Pebble Beach and The Open Championship at his beloved Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland. McIlroy needs to get back into the picture quickly because his talent, like DJ’s, is not delivering the results it should.

*Jordan Spieth showed a good deal in finishing in a tie for 3rd — his first top ten since the 2018 Open Championship and his highest finish since finishing 3rd at the 2018 Masters. Spieth, who also has three majors — may be finally ready to make some serious noise for the balance of 2019.

*Bethpage Black showed its muscle with only six players finishing below 280 for the championship. Credit once again goes to PGA of America’s Kerry Haigh and his team for getting the golf course to play properly. The words “tough but fair” are what majors should be and Bethpage was handled superbly in identifying the contenders from the pretenders. Hopefully, the USGA folks will be watching closely in their preparation for Pebble Beach for the US Open in one month’s time. Good scores were doable at the Black, but when conditions turned extremely challenging with significant wind the final day it forced players to play at the highest of levels. Having rough that had bite to it is the way to bring back accurate driving. The Black is certainly one of the game’s stout challenges and it’s big time return in 2024 for The Ryder Cup Matches will be eagerly awaited.

Read next

KPMG Women’s PGA Championship R1

By M. James Ward

*Moving the PGA Championship from the dreary hot and humid time frame of August to May was a very smart decision. Following-up after the Woods win at Augusta was the perfect time frame for the game’s 3rd oldest major. The PGA of America also benefited from having good weather for the event even though poor weather plagued the New York metropolitan area for several weeks prior to the event.

*Faces to watch include the rising stars of Matt Wallace from England and American Patrick Cantlay — both finished in a tie for 3rd. Hats off as well to Lucas Glover — the man who captured the ’09 US Open at Bethpage in finishing in a tie for 16th. Have to wonder what is happening with Justin Rose? Misses the cut at Augusta and finished in a tie for 29th at the PGA. Is the bloom off for Rose? Ditto for Tommy Fleetwood. Played well over the first 36 with a 138 total. Finished off the event miserably with a 150 total for the last 36 holes for a tie for 48th.