Brooks Koepka battles to US PGA victory at brutal Bethpage

Word number one saw his seven shot lead cut to one on the back nine before rallying

Brooks Koepka reacts to his putt on the 18th green to win the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, New York. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Brooks Koepka reacts to his putt on the 18th green to win the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, New York. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

 

Who said it would be easy? It rarely is. And Brooks Koepka’s march towards another US PGA Championship title was a hesitant one before he ultimately added the 101st edition here at Bethpage Black to his centenary victory of last year. But it turned into a tougher assignment than anyone envisaged, as his friend Dustin Johnson turned adversary and filled the road to victory with speedbumps and obstructions.

Even Koepka’s flatlining pulse was raised beyond anything he’d ever experienced.

For a time, the robotic Ice Man melted in the white heat of battle in a final round that saw his seven stroke lead at the start of the round disappear. Shot by shot, hole by hole. Koepka ran up four successive bogeys on the homeward run, from the 11th to the 14th, as his lead was reduced to the narrowest of margins.

Ultimately, though, Koepka got the job done on the 72nd hole, after a journey which brought one false turn after another before he reached the final destination as Johnson also suffered under the pressure coming in. Just as he one to within one of his friend, Johnson suffered back-to-back bogeys on the 16th and 17th.

Johnson plays his third shot on the 18th. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Johnson plays his third shot on the 18th. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

And a fist-pumping of the air accompanied Koepka’s par putt on the 18th to seal the deal.

The 29-year-old American became the first player in golfing history to simultaneously win back-to-back US Open and US PGA championships, claiming a fourth career Major inside the past 24 months. Koepka’s final round 74 – featuring four bogeys in his closing eight holes but brilliantly saving par on the 18th after driving into a fairway bunker – for a 72-holes total of 272 gave him a two stroke winning margin over Johnson, who was the only player to produced four rounds in the 60s.

A strong, swirling wind accentuated the challenge presented of a tough course, with the heavy rough penalising any waywardness, and the crowds wildly added to Koepka’s travails as mistakes were cheered with a venom not normally seen at golf tournaments as well as some unseemly shouting at the top of players’ swings.

Jordan Spieth’s bid for the career Grand Slam had effectively finished with a 72 on Saturday but he showed fortitude of his own in bouncing back with closing round 71 in the tough Sunday conditions to secure a top-five finish, on 278 (two-under-par) in a share of third with England’s Matt Wallace and American Patrick Cantlay.

“I’m very happy with the progress. Each week this year I have figured something out to get closer to where I want to be. There’s still room for improvement but I am excited to see the trajectory my game is on,” said Spieth

Koepka had name-checked two players, Johnson and Graeme McDowell, as influencers in how he had learnt to treat the Major championships as his domain:

“Those two, I don’t want to say (they’re) my sounding boards, but guys I’ve taken bits and pieces of that I like mentally. How they approach it, just from listening to them. I don’t say much. I just listen to them. I let them kind of talk about it and go from there and pick what I like and pick what I think I can make a little bit better for myself,” revealed Koepka.

So, what’s it like to be the man who unleashed the beast?

G-Mac ,one of the more cerebral of players on the circuit, had his brains picked for sure. But the Northern Irishman claimed that Koepka was “being very complimentary” in identifying him as one of those sources of knowledge and inspiration.

It was through McDowell and by extension Koepka’s coach Claude Harmon that Ricky Elliott – a very good friend of McDowell – arrived on the back-to-back PGA champion’s bag. And that friendship brought McDowell into more contact with Koepka, where he took to hanging out with McDowell and his wider circle, including coach Pete Cowan, caddie Kenny Comboy et al.

Koepka plays his second shot on the 13th hole from the gallery. Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images
Koepka plays his second shot on the 13th hole from the gallery. Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images

“Brooks is a tough guy to get to know. I wouldn’t even say I know him very well. I maybe know him better than most,” admitted McDowell. “Ricky’s had a great amount of influence from some of the best European caddies. Billy Fosters of the world, Wobblys of the world, Kenny Comboys of the world. Guys like Pete Cowan, myself have been able to give Brooks that experience as well. The rest is all his own work. You can’t teach somebody to think the way Brooks Koepka thinks. I wish I could think that way, use negativity the way he is able to u se it. He just drives himself to another level.”

Collated final round scores & totals in the 101st PGA Championship (Bethpage State Park Black Course, Bethpage, New York, United Sates of America (USA unless stated, par 70):

272 Brooks Koepka 63 65 70 74

274 Dustin Johnson 69 67 69 69

278 Matt Wallace (Eng) 69 67 70 72, Patrick Cantlay 69 70 68 71, Jordan Spieth 69 66 72 71

279 Luke List 68 68 69 74

280 Sung Kang (Kor) 68 70 70 72

281 Rory McIlroy (NIrl) 72 71 69 69, Adam Scott (Aus) 71 64 72 74, Shane Lowry (Irl) 75 69 68 69, Gary Woodland 70 70 73 68, Matt Kuchar 70 70 72 69, Erik Van Rooyen (Rsa) 70 68 70 73

282 Jazz Janewattananond (Tha) 70 68 67 77, Chez Reavie 68 71 71 72

283 Lucas Bjerregaard (Den) 71 69 70 73, Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn) 70 68 68 77, Abraham Ancer (Mex) 73 70 69 71, Mike Lorenzo-Vera (Fra) 68 71 75 69, Xander Schauffele 70 69 68 76, Lucas Glover 72 69 69 73, Brandt Snedeker 74 67 73 69

284 Jason Day (Aus) 69 74 69 72, Emiliano Grillo (Arg) 76 67 70 71, Jason Kokrak 73 70 71 70, Jimmy Walker 70 70 71 73, Billy Horschel 70 72 71 71, Thomas Pieters (Bel) 74 70 71 69

285 Keegan Bradley 70 70 73 72, Justin Rose (Eng) 70 67 73 75, Graeme McDowell (NIrl) 70 72 73 70, Sam Burns 70 72 69 74, Paul Casey (Eng) 70 71 75 69, Adam Hadwin (Can) 72 70 70 73, Webb Simpson 72 69 72 72

286 Danny Lee (Nzl) 64 74 71 77, Haotong Li (Chn) 73 69 70 74, Harold Varner III 71 67 67 81, Beau Hossler 72 69 77 68, Rickie Fowler 69 69 71 77

287 Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha) 76 68 68 75, Adam Long 73 70 69 75, Aaron Wise 70 71 71 75, Danny Willett (Eng) 71 70 69 77, Scott Piercy 72 67 72 76, Charles Howell III 72 67 73 75, Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng) 75 65 76 71

288 Francesco Molinari (Ita) 72 68 73 75, Tommy Fleetwood (Eng) 67 71 72 78, Tyrrell Hatton (Eng) 71 69 72 76, Kelly Kraft 71 65 78 74, Bronson Burgoon 73 66 74 75, Henrik Stenson (Swe) 74 68 75 71

289 Justin Harding (Rsa) 74 70 73 72, Charley Hoffman 73 69 75 72, Zach Johnson 71 69 73 76, Alex Noren (Swe) 73 69 74 73, J.J. Spaun 72 72 70 75, Cameron Champ 72 71 73 73

290 JT Poston 77 67 71 75, Rob Labritz 75 69 74 72, Ross Fisher (Eng) 74 67 77 72, Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa) 70 68 73 79

291 Tony Finau 70 73 69 79, Kurt Kitayama 74 68 77 72, Cameron Smith (Aus) 73 70 74 74, Max Homa 70 71 79 71, Thorbjorn Olesen (Den) 73 70 71 77, Joost Luiten (Ned) 72 72 77 70, Corey Conners (Can) 72 72 76 71

292 Joel Dahmen 70 72 71 79, Daniel Berger 70 66 78 78, Phil Mickelson 69 71 76 76, Lucas Herbert (Aus) 74 70 73 75, David Lipsky 70 74 77 71, Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa) 75 69 74 74

293 Kevin Tway 73 70 76 74

294 Pat Perez 68 73 76 77, Andrew Putnam 74 70 75 75

295 Ryan Vermeer 70 74 72 79, Rich Beem 75 69 82 69

299 Marty Jertson 72 69 79 79

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