Brooks Koepka was having an almost perfect PGA Championship and then Sunday happened.
Heavy winds at Bethpage Black made that seven stroke lead erode down to one, as Koepka had to hang on and win his second consecutive PGA in a row.
“You knew today was going to be a tough day when it was blowing 15 or 20 on the range,” Koepka said. “I left 10 feeling pretty good and left 14 not feeling so good. It’s very — it can change very, very quick. This golf course, it’s in the trees. You’re going to — once it gets above the tree line, it can do whatever it wants. You’ve just got to hang tough, and it’s been so enjoyable. It was nice to finish on 18. I’m just glad we didn’t have to play anymore, that’s for sure.”
This is what makes the sport so great. Even with being the best golfer out there for the first three days, one bad round is all he needs to lose it. That came today finishing 4-over, which allowed Dustin Johnson to make it exciting.
“I tell you what, the hour spent from No. 11 to 14 was interesting,” he 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. It was very, very stressful, the last hour and a half of that round. That’s why I let a big sigh of relief go.”
It’s very interesting because 11 months ago and about 40 miles east, Koepka had to come back to win the US Open at Shinnecock, now he had to hold off a collapse in Nassau County. Two very different Long Island venues and two very different tournaments.
“It’s definitely different. It’s different — it’s something I’ve never experienced,” he said. “Maybe I think playing with a lead is a little bit tougher. It’s easier in the sense of you know that you can afford mistakes, and you’ve just got to stay mentally sharp. I think you have to be sharper mentally when you have such a big lead that you still have to set goals. You still have to, okay, I still need to go out and go play, and I felt like I did a good job of that the first ten holes. I don’t know if I just mentally slipped for a couple holes or what.
“But I think playing with the lead is a different feeling. It is. It’s very difficult. You want to extend it. But also, you’re not trying to — you’re not trying to come back to the field, so every time you make a bogey, you’re kind of thinking, I’m bringing everybody back, I’m bringing everybody back; I keep coming back, why am I doing this, what’s going on.
“I don’t want to say it’s a panic, but it’s definitely a shock when you make a couple, and like the first hole, you know, I make bogey and Harold makes birdie and all of a sudden it goes to five, and I’m like, whoa, you got yourself a ballgame just after one. Five shots in 17 holes is definitely doable.”
And today he proved it. Koepka is the best player in the world right now and goes to Pebble Beach next month looking for the three-peat. It will be a vert different atmosphere than he experienced at Bethpage.
But don’t fret, after learning how the Black and the New York crowd it brings, Koepka is looking forward to the Ryder Cup in 2024 and Team USA’s home field advantage.
“We’ve actually talked about this a lot during the week,” he said. “It was — good luck to Europe with the fans. This is — I can’t wait to play it. I hope I’m on the team. If not, I just want to be here.
“It’s going to be very special. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I can’t wait to play it. I’m excited already thinking about it. This is one hell of a place to play Ryder Cup.”
As it was one hell of a finish to the PGA Championship.