Koepka Avoids Collapse With Assist From Haters

The 101st PGA Championship seemed like it was destined to be over before the weekend even started.

Brooks Koepka, the winner of last year’s PGA as well as the last two U.S. Opens, shot scorching rounds of 63-65 on Thursday and Friday at Bethpage Black to take a commanding seven-shot lead into the weekend on Long Island.

Despite standing pat on Saturday with an even-par 70, his lead heading into the final round never diminished. It wasn’t until Koepka made four bogeys in a row between Nos. 11 and 14 to let his friend and closest competitor Dustin Johnson back into the mix. 

Johnson, who shot a 3-under par front nine to reach 8-under par, closed the gap to four strokes, but a birdie by Koepka on the 10th, coupled with a bogey by Johnson on the 11th seemed to be the final nail in the field’s collective coffin as Koepka’s lead ballooned back to six strokes with eight holes to play. 

Yet as Koepka stared down his fourth bogey in a row on 14, Johnson cut the lead to two with a birdie on the 15th hole. Koepka’s par try missed on the par-3 14th and the lead was all of the sudden one.

That’s when something out of Johnson and Koepka’s control helped to refocus the three-time major champion: the rowdy Bethpage crowd turned on Koepka and started openly rooting for Johnson. 

“I tell you what, the hour spent from No. 11 to 14 was interesting,” Koepka said. “When they started chanting, ‘DJ’ on 14, it actually kind of helped, to be honest with you. 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.

“I didn’t make (a putt) on 11. On 12, didn’t have the easiest of par looks. 13 was a bit disappointing, and 14 was just a bit of a shock to go four in a row. I can’t tell you the last time I’ve made four bogeys in a row. I don’t know if I ever have — I’m sure I have. But just had to reset. And like I said, I think everybody chanting, ‘DJ’ kind of helped that.”

Refocused by the slight of the crowd, and with a newfound chip on his shoulder, Koepka unleashes a 350-yard drive on 15 that led to an easy par and a 313-yard drive on 16 that led to another two-putt par.

Ahead, Johnson made back-to-back bogeys on 16 and 17 to give Koepka some breathing room and a three-stroke lead. Koepka gave one back with a three-putt bogey on 17, but he had enough cushion to get up-and-down from 68 yards for par on the 72nd hole to close out his fourth major championship in his last eight major starts. 

“It’s been so much fun these last two years,” Koepka said. “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.

“Today was definitely the most satisfying out of all of them for how stressful that round was; how stressful DJ made that. I know for a fact, that was the most excited I’ve ever been in my life ever there on 18.”

With the win, Koepka joined the group of four-time major champions that includes Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els, Raymond Floyd and both Young and Old Tom Morris.

Only 19 men in the history of the sport have won more majors than Koepka has. He heads to Pebble Beach as the No. 1-ranked player in the world and as the only player to ever hold consecutive victories at two different majors.