PGA Championship 2019

Calm amid near collapse

Koepka survives 4 straight bogeys on back 9 for 'most stressful' victory and 4th Major title

A relieved Brooks Koepka with the Wanamaker Trophy after retaining the PGA Championship at the Bethpage Black Course in Farmingdale, New York on Sunday. Runner-up Dustin Johnson has now finished second at all four Major championships.
A relieved Brooks Koepka (above) with the Wanamaker Trophy after retaining the PGA Championship at the Bethpage Black Course in Farmingdale, New York on Sunday. Runner-up Dustin Johnson has now finished second at all four Major championships.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • Brooks Koepka did not win the PGA Championship so much as he weathered it.

The North Atlantic gusts whipped across Bethpage Black Course and rattled his shirt like a sail, but he never allowed it to sink him on Sunday.

Somehow, Koepka out-muscled all that wind and imminent catastrophe when it all seemed to be leaking away with four straight bogeys.

He has not established himself as the toughest-minded player of his generation for nothing.

After firing a four-over 74 to finish 72 holes on eight-under 272 for a two-shot victory over fellow American Dustin Johnson, Koepka, who had a record seven-stroke lead coming into the final round before seeing it whittle to one, said: "I never thought about failing.

"I was trying my butt off. If I bogeyed all the way in, I'd still have looked at it as, I tried my hardest. Sometimes, that's all you got. I guess you could have said I choked it away, but I never once thought about it."

Bethpage Black was more than a punishing test of golf, it was a traumatising one.

  • 4th 

  • Player to win four or more Majors in eight starts. 

As Paul Casey finished his round and went to the scoring tent, he saw a dog wearing a coat that read, "Emotional Support Animal".

"Which is what I feel like I need after playing that golf course," the Englishman, whose 69 saw him finish on five over, said.

  • 128 

  • Lowest halfway total in a Major.

  • 1st

  • To retain both the PGA Championship and US Open. 

This is how hard the 7,459-yard course was - over the last two rounds, 64 competitors out of the field of 82 carded double bogeys, that ultimate humiliation for a touring professional.

It prised 6s and 7s out of the best golfers in the world in multiples, a total 196 over four days, and 41 in the final round alone.

Even Jordan Spieth, who finished joint third (278) with a 71, and four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy (69), who shared eighth place on 281, each committed two apiece over the course of the tournament.

But Koepka, who yesterday returned to world No. 1, never made one. All along, he understood better than anyone that the man who avoided the compounded errors on this course was the one who had the likeliest chance of winning.

There were hazards everywhere for him, not the least of which was Johnson, who just kept on coming like that strong wind, with his 69 as he became the eighth player to finish runner-up at all four Major championships.

But Koepka time and again was able to cut trouble down to size with a solid timely shot and that unwavering putter of his.

In assessing how he has been able to win four Majors in the space of 23 months, start with this: He has the ability to impose a calming, rational thought on himself when he needs one under pressure.

So many other players would have let it bleed away after four straight bogeys, coming at the worst possible time, with Johnson closing in after a rash of three birdies in six holes.

But as Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell said: "You can't teach somebody to think the way that Brooks Koepka thinks."

All week, he had preached these thoughts to himself in the deadpan voice that is becoming his signature that "it's just another day of work".

That day of work, as it happened, accomplished something extraordinary - the unprecedented feat of holding two PGA and two US Open trophies simultaneously.

And it built an already strong-minded player, who formed a siege mentality against the "DJ" chants, into one even stronger.

"It was like, 'I've got everybody against me, let's go'. There's a lot of satisfaction for what happened today," Koepka, the fifth PGA wire-to-wire winner after Hal Sutton in 1983, Ray Floyd in 1982, Jack Nicklaus in 1971 and Bobby Nichols in 1964, said.

"This was, by far, the most stressful. I'm glad I've got this thing sitting next to me."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 21, 2019, with the headline 'Calm amid near collapse '. Print Edition | Subscribe