25 May 19
Lake County Record-Bee
The 101st annual Professional Golfers Association Championship is now in the record books. Brooks Koepka of West Palm Beach, Florida won the PGA for the second straight year and found his way into golf history for accumulating four major titles in 23 months as well as holding back-to-back PGAs and U.S. Opens at the same time. It was a most memorable week for Koepka, a late blooming 29-year-old who seems to be on the verge of becoming one of the game’s greats.
Koepka started his opening round Thursday morning by teeing off the difficult 10th hole. He made birdie. From that point onward for the next 71 holes Brooks held onto the lead in the PGA Championship, from the beginning to the end. He shot a course-record 63 on the ultra-difficult Bethpage Black Golf Course in the opening round. He then threw a 65 at the rest of the field Friday. During an extremely trying third round on Saturday, Koepka carded an even-par 70 as his lead ballooned to a full seven shots.
After 54 holes there was one prevailing thought; Koepka would easily march to victory with another rock-solid round Sunday, joining similarly great champions Ben Hogan at the 1951 U.S. Open, Jack Nicklaus at the 1965 Masters, and Tiger Woods at the 2000 U.S. Open, all of whom recorded major runaway wins.
After nine holes on Sunday afternoon, things had remained pretty much the same. Koepka led world No. 1 Dustin Johnson by six strokes, Jordan Spieth was hanging in there in a distant third place, and Patrick Cantlay and European Tour stalwart Matt Wallace rounded out the top five from eight strokes back. The coronation of Brooks Koepka was just a couple of hours away.
Within that next hour, the wind started gusting at 30 miles per hour, the narrow fairways got even harder to hit, and Koepka could only find the deep rough as he made three bogeys in a row. Meanwhile Johnson birdied the 15th hole and that big six-shot lead was down to just two strokes. Koepka made a fourth consecutive bogey after three-putting the par-3 14th hole and suddenly he was holding on to a very precarious one-shot advantage. He was leaking oil, Johnson was gaining momentum, and the boisterous New York crowd was rooting on DJ.
And then, just as suddenly, Koepka righted the ship and made solid pars on the 15th and 16th holes. Meanwhile Johnson, playing in front of Koepka, inexplicably lost his form and made crushing bogeys on the 16th and 17th holes. The lead was back to three shots. Koepka three-putted the par-3 17th for a fifth back-nine bogey and the lead was still a safe two strokes with just the 18th hole left to play. Koepka hit his tee shot left of the 18th fairway, chopped it out to 68 yards, and then hit his partial wedge to 4 feet. The putt was made for par. While Koepka didn’t run away with the PGA like Ben, Jack or Tiger, nor did he pull an Arnold Palmer at Olympic or Jean Van de Velde at Carnoustie and let the PGA Championship slip away.
In winning last week’s PGA Championship, Brooks Koepka survived at very difficult test of golf. Give credit to the PGA of America for setting up the course in such a way that great golf was rewarded without making the course unplayable. Perhaps the PGA of America can save the USGA from a fifth consecutive year of chaos and set up this year’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach for them as well. Simply put, the PGA’s course setup rewarded power and accuracy as well as one’s ability to get up and down from the thick rough when iron shots went askew. It was very well done.
In the tradition of the power players of the various eras, namely Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones post-World War I, Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead during the 1940s and 1950s, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus at the start of the television era, and most recently Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, major championships have historically rewarded the long ball. Koepka is the best long ball golfer of today and he also seems to have the strongest demeanor among his contemporaries. He seemed unflappable throughout last week, whether he was setting a course record or losing a six-stroke lead. Koepka seems to be mentally tougher than anyone else playing today. It is very reminiscent of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in their primes.
For Dustin Johnson, the two bogeys at the end of Sunday’s round were a devastating conclusion to his week. Johnson is as equally talented as Koepka and yet there’s almost a Greg Norman-like quality to him under the glare of those major championship lights. Dustin’s runner-up finish at the PGA Championship put him alongside Norman in a most dubious category. Both men have finished runner-up in all four major championships during the course of their careers. With a good break here or there Dustin Johnson just might be the owner of five major titles. He will be a strong favorite at Pebble Beach next month, but at the same time he has let some mighty good chances slip through his fingers.
Jordan Spieth had his best finish in a major championship since he won the British Open two summers ago. The third-place check marked his highest finish of this season. After 14 tournaments this year, Jordan is 91st on the Fed Ex Cup points list. He is far removed from making the Presidents Cup Team this December in Australia. Statistically, he is ranked 198th in shots gained off the tee, 204th in driving accuracy, and 153rd in greens in regulation. Only a top-10 stat in putting has saved his season thus far. Spieth insists that his slump is over. Only time, and the U.S. Open, will tell.
Next year’s PGA Championship will be contested at the iconic Harding Park Golf Course in San Francisco on the shores of Lake Merced. Like Bethpage Black, Harding Park is a municipal golf course. Bethpage is owned by the Long Island Forest Preserve while Harding is owned by the City and County of San Francisco. Both courses were in total disarray some 30 years ago. Bethpage was “saved” by Mike Davis and the USGA and ended up hosting a pair of U.S. Opens, two Barclays Championships, and a future Ryder Cup. Harding Park was “saved” by Sandy Tatum and has now hosted a World Golf Championship, a pair of Schwab Cups, the Presidents Cup, and most recently the World Match Play. The PGA of America has thought outside the box in hosting its major championship on public golf courses that usually cater to Joe Six Pack. The end result was a great 2019 PGA Championship with the intention to match it in 2020 in San Francisco. Safe to say you can probably figure on Brooks Koepka being the favorite at this time next year.