Brooks Koepka won his fourth major in just eight starts at the 2019 PGA Championship on Sunday, but it was far from an easy win.
Sunday was supposed to be a victory lap for Brooks Koepka, but the reality was a hard fought and well-earned triumph as he completed his record breaking week by successfully defending the PGA Championship.
It was a day where just 11 players finished under par as the wind arrived at Bethpage Black, and even Brooks Koepka wasn’t able to withstand the back-nine as he was left reeling after four bogeys in a row from the 11th while being chased down by Dustin Johnson.
Yet recover he did, with a little help from Johnson - who dropped two shots on the last three holes - and managed to grind out a two-shot victory to go wire to wire for his fourth major title.
On the green, Koepka was uncharacteristically over-animated when he holed his final putt of the day, and the new World No.1 was quick to call it both the most stressful and most satisfying victory to date.
"There's a lot of satisfaction for what happened today," said Koepka. "This was, by far, the most stressful. I didn't think Shinnecock was this stressful. I mean, it played so hard today, and these fairways, I don't know, 20, 25 yards wide; I didn't drive it good. Didn't give myself very many chances from the tee, and you do that at Bethpage, you're in for a long day, and I was.
"I'm glad I've got this thing sitting next to me. It's very satisfying this one. This is definitely the most satisfying of all the ones I've won."
The defending champion dropped a shot on the opening hole but it looked like normality had resumed when he found the green in two on the par-five fourth and two putted for birdie to re-establish his lead.
When he hit his approach shot to less than three feet for a tap-in birdie on the 10th, the contest looked over – even with Dustin Johnson’s move to eight-under.
But the combination of four wayward drives in a row turned the entire tournament on its head, and for the first time since Thursday afternoon, Koepka’s lead was under a tangible threat.
A wild drive in to the fairway bunker on the 11th left him unable to hit the green until his fourth shot, and he scrambled well for just a bogey. A similar scenario followed on the next, driving in to the rough and needing another two shots to reach the green before a two putt bogey.
With the lead cut to four shots, Koepka pulled his drive in to the native area on the left side of the 13th for bogey number three, and as DJ birdied the 15th, his fellow ‘bash bro’ flew the green at the par-three 14th to reduce his lead down to just one shot – a far cry from the seven he started with when he began his round.
"I wasn't nervous. I was just in shock, I think," Koepka said after making four bogeys in a row. "I was in shock of what was kind of going on. On 14, we had 150 yards to the hole, and Harold hit 8 and the wind ate it up, and mine, it just died on me. You know, I made a good swing there, too. I felt like I just got stuck on a bogey train."
And the crowds let him know it. With chants of ‘DJ’ and shouts of ‘choke’ from the highly criticised raucous crowds, Koepka’s round was on the verge of free-fall in to the biggest major collapse in history. He could have been affected by the jeering, but instead found focus in it – after all, he’s proved time and time again he is able to raise his game when he feels he has to prove a point.
"I tell you what, the hour spent from No. 11 to 14 was interesting. When they started chanting, "DJ" on 14, it actually kind of helped, to be honest with you," Koepka said.
"I think it helped me kind of refocus and hit a good one down 15. I think that was probably the best thing that could have happened. It was very, very stressful, the last hour and a half of that round.
Koepka was still far from his best, but two pars in a row seemed to settle him, while Dustin Johnson played his own way out of contention over the final few holes.
DJ hit the middle of the fairway on the 16th when he was within one of the lead, but misjudged his approach and failed to get up and down for par. At the par-three 17th – where Lucas Bjerregaard made a hole in one earlier in the day – Johnson missed the green completely and walked off with a second dropped shot.
It gave Koepka a little more breathing room, and even with a three-putt bogey on 17 the defending champion stood on the 18th tee with a two shot lead. His drive went far left and he was left barely able to advance his next shot more than 66 yards, but his following approach was sublime: It landed five feet from the hole, and he rolled in his final par putt of the day to capture the Wanamaker for the second time in less than a year.
The whole week for Koepka was defined by record breaking - he started Thursday with a course record 63 and followed it up with the lowest ever 36 hole scoring record at the PGA Championship - and becomes the first player in history to successfully defend titles at both the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open.
And far how he would assess his astonishing major run over the past two years? Koepka uses the same word we do to describe it: phenomenal.
"Phenomenal," Koepka said about his four majors in his last eight starts. "I think that's a good word. Yeah, it's been a hell of a run. It's been fun. I'm trying not to let it stop. It's super enjoyable, and just try to ride that momentum going into Pebble. I think that's -- I mean, 4 of 8, I like the way that sounds.
"It's been incredibly quick, I know that. It's been so much fun these last, what is it, two years, it's pretty close to two years. It's incredible. I don't think I even thought I was going to do it that fast. I don't think anybody did, and to be standing here today with four majors, it's mind-blowing."
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