FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — The winds have been howling, the skies above Bethpage Black have been darkening, and sure, the terminator named Brooks Koepka was exhibiting his human frailty in a most alarming method. He was choking. How does one cease choking when everyone seems to be having fun with the spectacle and no person is keen to supply first help?
We’re nonetheless within the lead…we’re nonetheless within the lead, his caddie, Ricky Elliott, stored telling him. However after 4 consecutive bogeys on the again 9, what had been a seven-stroke lead — the most important 54-hole lead in PGA Championship historical past — was down to at least one with 4 holes to play and his pal turned enemy, Dustin Johnson, able to take the Lengthy Island main that Koepka took from him at Shinnecock Hills final yr.
“It crept into my thoughts,” Elliott, from Northern Eire, mentioned of the chance that his participant was spiraling towards a van de Velde-ian place in sports activities infamy. “I am positive it was very a lot in Brooks’ thoughts. He was going to make historical past both method, wasn’t he?”
Koepka admitted he was in shock; he could not recall the final time he made 4 bogeys in a row, or if he’d ever made 4 bogeys in a row.
“I am letting everyone again in,” he stored telling himself.
Koepka was going to star within the mom of all meltdowns on this penal colony of a golf course. He was going to make Greg Norman’s Shakespearean tragedy on the 1996 Masters really feel like nothing greater than an excellent stroll spoiled. The winds have been gusting at 35 mph, blowing his tee photographs everywhere in the lot, turning the back-nine par 4s into par 5s, and turning the par-5 13th, Elliott mentioned, right into a no-doubt-about-it par 6.
The caddie reassured his man that Johnson had some troublesome holes to play, too, that he could not preserve birdieing holes.
“After which he birdied 15,” Elliott mentioned. “I used to be like, ‘Oh no.'” However nonetheless, the caddie might inform Koepka that that they had the lead. It was the one factor that they had left.
Outdoors the ropes, the uber-confident father of the uber-confident participant, Bob Koepka, regarded like he’d seen a ghost.
“It undoubtedly had me frightened,” he mentioned.
AP Photograph/Julio Cortez
His son had received three majors in his earlier seven begins and had spoken final week of successful 10 or extra in his profession. Brooks had been described as a beast, a monster, a machine — all dehumanizing phrases meant as compliments. And but instantly he was bleeding profusely, trying and performing impossibly misplaced and weak.
Koepka was checking the scoreboards always throughout the again 9, watching his personal demise in gradual movement. He took some additional time on the 15th tee to attempt to collect himself. He heard the followers chanting “Dee-Jay, Dee-Jay” on the 14th. Although he felt he deserved it from a New York crowd that smelled blood, it made him cease and unscramble his ideas.
“I feel that was in all probability the most effective factor that might have occurred,” Koepka mentioned of the mantra. He instructed himself, “OK, all proper. I’ve received everyone towards me. Let’s go.”
He ripped his ball into the 15th fairway, and watched Johnson miss his putt for par on the 16th , and heard the group go ooooh. Essentially the most irritating 90 minutes of his profession lastly began to decelerate. Johnson bogeyed the 17th, permitting Koepka to do the identical, and by the point the defending champ stood on the 18th tee with a two-shot lead, he felt snug utilizing his driver. His ball sailed broad left into hassle, however Koepka chopped out, landed his method shut and sank the par putt that liberated him finally.
Koepka emphatically pumped his fist and gave Elliott the longest, sweetest hug.
“I do know for a proven fact that was essentially the most excited I’ve ever been on my life over there on 18,” he mentioned later.
Koepka had confirmed he might win together with his C-game, similar to Tiger did. For Koepka, it all the time appears to come back again to Tiger.
Brooks Koepka displays on his fast rise to the highest of the golf world after repeating on the PGA Champion and acquiring his 4th main victory in solely 2 years.
Chris Malloy warned Koepka about Woods about 4 years in the past in Tampa, the place Malloy, the previous head coach on the College of South Florida, was attempting to fireplace up the skilled golfer he had efficiently recruited whereas he was an assistant at Florida State.
As a toddler, Koepka ordered some mock turtlenecks on-line after watching Woods put on them on the Masters and past. He wished to be the subsequent Tiger, like hundreds of thousands of younger golfers, and Malloy used that dream as a weapon whereas Woods was rehabbing from one in every of his accidents.
“You higher begin successful some tournaments now,” Malloy instructed Koepka. “What are you going to do when your idol comes again and takes over once more?”
Koepka shot his former coach a lethal severe look.
“I am stronger than Tiger is,” he responded. “I am longer, I hit it straighter, I’ve a greater brief recreation than he does, and I putt it higher. How is Tiger ever going to beat me?”
We interrupt your reminder that Tiger did certainly beat Koepka on the Masters with our personal reminder that Koepka beat him finally yr’s PGA Championship, after which nuked him at this yr’s PGA Championship. That was the heavyweight struggle throughout the heavyweight struggle at Bethpage Black. When Koepka defeated Woods by 17 strokes over 36 holes, face to face, the eventual winner really landed a Deontay Wilder proper hand on the complete area.
A yr after prevailing at Shinnecock, he was at it once more, ascending to the highest of the world rankings, and turning into the primary man to concurrently maintain back-to-back titles in two majors. Koepka is 29 years previous, and he mentioned he sees no purpose why he cannot preserve muscling his method into historical past. The truth is, Malloy, now the pinnacle coach at his alma mater, Ole Miss, believes Koepka is upset that no person is taking him severely as a Tiger-like risk to Jack Nicklaus’ file of 18 main titles.
“I am stronger than Tiger is. I am longer, I hit it straighter, I’ve a greater brief recreation than he does, and I putt it higher. How is Tiger ever going to beat me?””
Brooks Koepka, based on one in every of his school coaches, Chris Malloy
“It pisses him off that he is not requested that query,” mentioned Malloy, who stays in common contact with Koepka. “That may make him really feel nice when you ask him about Jack. … I promise you he completely thinks of each Tiger’s (15) majors and Jack’s as targets. That is not 99 p.c, it is 100 p.c. Assured.”
Malloy was the precise coach to listen to out as this PGA Championship headed to an in depth. Requested Saturday night time how his son had made the transition from a university hothead who usually threw and broke golf equipment to a Cool Hand Luke on tour, Bob Koepka had a easy reply: “Chris Malloy,” he mentioned. The Florida State assistant most answerable for signing Brooks, and for working alongside head coach Trey Jones to tame the raging beast throughout the younger and immature prospect.
On no less than 20 events, Malloy estimated, the coach hid behind timber and surreptitiously filmed Koepka so he might later present him proof of his awful perspective and its influence on his scorecard. Koepka used to reply to poor photographs at school occasions by cursing himself, or by flinging his bag again onto his shoulder and dragging his membership and slamming it into the bottom. Malloy instituted a rule that required Koepka to place his membership again in his bag inside 5 seconds — or else. When Brooks violated the rule, Malloy made him run the steps at Doak Campbell Stadium. Koepka turned as acquainted with that stadium as Seminoles legends Deion Sanders and Charlie Ward.
“You run 5 or 6 stadiums and you are going to throw up, and Brooks threw up like clockwork,” Malloy mentioned. “He was the hardest participant I ever needed to change. He had arguably the worst mood, and he was so laborious on himself. He was the furthest individual from what you see in the present day. He undoubtedly wouldn’t have received any majors if he had the identical temperament in the present day that he had then.
“If he acted like an ass and also you instructed him to run 10 stadiums, he would not care as a lot. He began pondering of it as an additional exercise. He was like, ‘That is my cardio.’ It wasn’t till we made it a crew penalty, and made everyone run, that it began to have an effect on him. Brooks did not need to damage his teammates.”
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports activities
Ranked No. 1 within the nation as a sophomore in 2010, Koepka almost damage them to an unforgivable diploma in the course of the Seminole Intercollegiate, the place Florida State held an enormous lead over South Carolina. He whistled a tee shot out of bounds that value him the person title, misplaced his focus after which disqualified himself by signing an incorrect scorecard. Pressured to exchange Koepka’s rating with that of a freshman’s, the Seminoles have been docked 9 strokes and barely beat South Carolina by one.
“That was his defining second, the turning level,” Malloy mentioned. “He was scared sh–less that he virtually value his crew the title.”
The coach credited Koepka for taking it from there. Brooks by no means wanted a hug, or an arm wrapped round his shoulder for reassurance. He by no means complained to his mother and father about the way in which he was being coached at Florida State.
“He likes direct honesty,” Malloy mentioned. “He loves powerful love. Every thing you see is a realized conduct, and that is actually laborious to do. I feel it is a terrific story for junior golf. Children see Brooks now and suppose he is a robotic on the market with no emotion, however that wasn’t his nature.”
Koepka would refine his recreation the laborious method abroad. He realized slightly bit about grit from his pal, Graeme McDowell, and later, again within the States, he realized slightly bit about poise from his pal, D.J. Koepka proved he might win the U.S. Open in a runaway at Erin Hills, after which proved he might win ugly at Shinnecock Hills, too. Earlier than arriving at Bethpage, he’d proved he might win a PGA by holding off arguably the best participant who ever lived.
Woods made his spirited cost at Bellerive a yr in the past and Koepka by no means blinked. That triumph, and the near-miss final month at Augusta Nationwide, impressed Koepka to say that he did not see any purpose why he “cannot get to double digits” in profession main titles.
“He simply sat on the finish of the desk fairly quiet, and he says, ‘That is not going to occur.’ They usually mentioned, ‘Nicely, if that is the case, who’s going to do it?’ And he simply raised his hand.”
Bob Koepka, on his son’s response when a possible tools sponsor steered a special tour participant may win eight to 10 majors.
His blind religion stunned no person within the Koepka camp. As a sixth grader in Lake Value, Fla. who made his highschool crew, Brooks introduced to his father throughout a trip house from a match that he would drop out of college in 4 years and switch professional. Bob Koepka instantly pulled over and let his boy know that he can be ending highschool and attending school whether or not he preferred it or not.
Years later, earlier than he received his first U.S. Open, a grown Brooks was assembly with representatives of a big tools producer when one predicted sure participant was destined to win eight to 10 majors.
“He simply sat on the finish of the desk fairly quiet,” Bob Koepka recalled of his son, “and he says, ‘That is not going to occur.’ They usually mentioned, ‘Nicely, if that is the case, who’s going to do it?’ And he simply raised his hand.” The senior Koepka would not establish the participant his son dismissed apart from to say he is nonetheless on tour and nonetheless winless within the majors.
Two days earlier than he teed it up with Woods at Bethpage, Brooks Koepka defined why there was no purpose to concern Tiger within the octagon of a non-contact sport. (“He isn’t going to knock my enamel in,” mentioned the eventual champ.) After which the previous highschool star who was recruited by solely a small handful of Division I faculties went out, Bob Koepka mentioned, “and kinda turned the desk on Tiger. Tiger was seeing what he used to do to everyone else. … I feel he kinda witnessed Tiger again in 2000.”
Malloy shook his head as he watched from afar. He recalled Koepka as a scrawny recruit whose shoulders have been the width of a linebacker’s, suggesting his body would in the end fill out. The Florida State coaches knew all about Brooks’ uncooked athleticism. They knew his photographs regarded and sounded completely different from everybody else’s.
Nothing a lot has modified about that. On Sunday, after sustaining he had little question he would prevail, Koepka misplaced six photographs on his seven-shot lead after which held on for pricey life. On the champion’s ceremony on the 18th inexperienced, Koepka leaned ahead, wrapped his arms round that massive, shiny trophy, and dramatically exhaled earlier than smiling and shaking his head.
His most satisfying victory full, Koepka left Bethpage Black with the one query that may cling over main championship golf for the foreseeable future.
How is Tiger, or anybody else, ever going to beat him?