ROCHESTER, NY — Brooks Koepka slowly pulled into the parking lot of the Oak Hill Country Club at 1:10 p.m. Sunday, arriving exactly one minute after his partner Victor Hovland’s 2:30 p.m. Koepka leaned to his right, elbow above the center console, and wrapped his left wrist on the steering wheel of his SUV. He pulled over to a designated parking spot with banners honoring his 2018 and 19 PGA Championship wins. He backed it up, straightened it out, pulled it to the front, and put it in the park.
Then Koepka walked the path Koepka walks. Impossible to rush. Shoulders pressed back. It’s as if he never wanted the world to think he was trying to get anywhere.
For a long time, this walk from Koepka has been framing many tournaments on Sundays. He was the person everyone was waiting for. He was the last to arrive. He was the one greeted by the rear camera guy who captured every move as the broadcast cut to a live shot of the man coming onto the scene.
But in recent years? We kind of got used to not seeing it.
Sunday’s tour started with Hofland in front of a huge gallery, just like the good old days. Koepka hit his opening putt and there was more to that rally. After the opening par, Koepka birdied the second hole, pulled the ball out of the cup and took about a full 30 seconds to walk off the green. He was shot on the tee at No. 3 after an outing pulled straight out of a John Woo movie.
As he has for most of his career, Koepka did exactly what he wanted on Sunday. The Ice Front Nine produced a 1-U 34. The hot nine back that saw him and Hovland trade blows, the competition heating up, speeded things up. Koepka’s gait moved him across the floor, under control, and pushed those shoulders back even more. 2-under 33 made for 3-under 67, and so on, a new parking space marker.
Koepka was the 2023 PGA Champion.
Everything that happened in Oak Hill this weekend happened according to Koepka’s schedule. It’s been a long time since he’s been able to say that, and in some ways, it felt fitting for a player whose path back from semi-oblivion rarely goes as planned. At the darkest of times, it looked like his playing days might come to an end known to an unfortunate group of injured greats. Such a fate would have been cruel. He is undoubtedly one of the best players in the history of modern golf. This Rochester victory made him the third golfer to have five major wins in the 21st century. The others are Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, two more who know what it’s like to go to the brink and come back.
After winning four majors in 2018 and 19, Koepka tore his patellar tendon in August 2019 and suffered a groin injury in 2020. Then in March 2021, a horrific injury hit. A slip and fall at home left Koepka on the floor with a dislocated knee. He tried to put the knee back in place, but instead he smashed his knee and tore the medial patellofemoral ligament, leaving his knee and feet pointing in different directions. A series of surgeries followed, even as Koepka tried to play through it.
All of this added up to Koepka’s career swing. Is that why he joined LIV Golf and loaded his bank account with all that money up front? Yes possible. We basically got first-hand evidence in “Full Swing,” the Netflix documentary series chronicling the 2022 season in professional golf.
There are some things you can’t delete, and this was one of them. Koepka has always been a star with a very well-crafted and nuanced image. The whole look. All Nike shoes from head to toe. Custom kicks. tan. Dimples. bronchus. biceps. Actress wife. Happy to introduce himself as cooler than the shmucks on the PGA Tour. I am happy to suggest that he is a true professional athlete, someone who also happens to play golf.
The documentary was discordant. Episode 2 focused heavily on Koepka. Or at least this infected version of it. The times were dark and the hair was bleached. He was physically and emotionally shattered.
“It’s like, ‘You tasted it, right?'” Koepka said afterwards of the success that went on. “Now that’s all I want. That’s all I want.”
It was not clear whether Koepka was questioning only his body or himself as well.
Sunday evening, as he was standing by the Wanamaker trophy, he was asked about it.
He replied, “It’s difficult – it’s very difficult to explain.” “It’s just, like, you can’t understand how hard it was just getting started. I mean, it was a lot worse than I let you guys let everybody out. Maybe only five or six people really knew how widespread it was, and that’s just — it was hard.”
This was Koepka’s realm for about two years. The swelling in his knee had only gone down a few months ago.
So yeah, whether you particularly care about it or not, this past week has been even more impressive. Koepka started with a 2-over 72 opener on Thursday, saying it was “the worst of its kind in a really long time.” Then he answered with a second round of 66 to jump back into the mix. On a rain-soaked Saturday, a day when only nine players broke in the field, he hit a 66-second straight to hold a one-stroke lead going into the final round.
Back in the day, Koepka would have been the undisputed favorite destination on a Sunday. But these are different days. Last month at the Augusta National, Koepka announced his return to form by leading the Masters after both the second and third rounds. That ended, however, with a fourth round 75 and a congratulatory handshake to John Ramm.
“He hasn’t been in this position for a while and it just showed up,” said Ricky Elliott, Koepka camper.
Going into Sunday, it wasn’t clear how old Kupka was still out there.
But that was answered quickly.
After going 1-over on the front nine at Oak Hill during the PGA’s first three days (vs. 7-under), Koepka Birded Nos. 2, 3, and 4 to build up a three-shot lead on Sunday before home viewers could settle into the broadcast. afternoon. From there, the already pending score felt like a foregone conclusion.
Well, that is until the sixth tee, when Koepka picked a driver over 3 woods and pumped one into the right bog. He took one ghost, followed it with another, and kept the door open for others.
Hovland was still alive. So were Scotty Scheffler and others. Cameron Smith was flailing down the track and going down. Those guys, they came on the scene just as Koepka pulled out of it. This was not lost on the Koepka team.
“You only need an average of six months here, and as everyone is now, the guys will fly by,” Elliot said. “If you don’t win, you’re not really relevant, are you?”
Elliott has worked for Koepka since the 2013 PGA at Oak Hill. At the time, Koepka was paired with Woods on Sunday. At some point that morning, Elliott had to push Koepka and tell him to stop watching Woods and focus on his game. All this time later, Koepka was walking around, unfazed.
“I have to slow down,” Koepka said on Sunday, describing his style in these stages. “I have to take my time and kind of assess things. I don’t think my hands are shaking or my heart rate is going up. I’m not thinking about the next take. I’m just thinking about what’s going on.”
That’s why Koepka didn’t change, whether he was rolling a birdie on No. 10, leaving a tee shot two short clubs on the par-3 11, or rolling another birdie on No. 12. He played his part and often walked Alone, leaving a trail of well-compressed footprints and receding spits.
With Hovland trying to lunge into the mix, Koepka matched both a birdie at number 14 and a birdie at number 15. On the 16th, young Hovland blinked. The car ended up in a right lane bunker dangerously close to a raised grass front. Roles reversed, Koepka likely took his medication, played it safe, and hoped to get up and down to stay in the fight. It’s one of the reasons he won five of these. But Hovland? He is twenty-five years old. He swung a full 9-iron, blended the ball into the dugout wall, then rested his chin on his fist, wondering what he was thinking.
He left Hovland with a double bogey. Koepka left with a lead of four shots.
“He wouldn’t give you anything, and I didn’t really feel like I gave him anything until 16,” Hovland said.
And that was it. Kupka finished the tournament with a score of 9-under 271, two points ahead of Hovland and Scheffler. His win came 1,463 days after his last major win – the 2019 PGA at Bethpage. At that time, Kupka seemed invincible. In time, his body proved otherwise.
However, Sunday didn’t end in tears or Koepka’s breakdown for all to see. Mostly played great. Some things never change.
This dynamic is, at this point, unavoidable when it comes to Koepka. He’s now the first LIV player to win a major championship, and that’s an irreversible part of his story.
At #9, a fan yelled, “Let’s go at you! Brooks is going to choke!” and got a look from Elliott. In #13, another shouted “Get in the water!” After a Koepka tee shot, Elliott drew another glare. In #17, Green’s side vocalized loudly, “Sellout!” Koepka also finished bogey.
“I hear everything,” Koepka said. “I just don’t care. I mean, this is a sport, right?”
The only crack came on Koepka’s outside as he ran from the 18th green to the scoring tent. A first-time father, the 33-year-old has a lot going on in his life. On his way to sign his card, that’s when it all started and he swallowed some feelings.
“That was what I accomplished,” Koepka said after an hour or so, remembering the walk. “Pardon my language, but it’s all—I had to go through it. No one knows. No one knows all the pain.”
With that feeling, as he alone can, Koepka finished Sunday.
He is the sixth player to win three PGA Championships. The Others: Walter Hagen (6), Jack Nicklaus (5), Woods (4), Gene Sarazen (3) and Sam Snead (3). The hardest part about Koepka’s play pausing was always that history slowed down with it. He had every right to be bitter about it.
But now Koepka has somewhere to be. Next, he’s set to take part in a LIV event later this week in Washington, D.C., and then the US Open in Los Angeles in mid-June. He will get there at his own pace. As of 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, that white Escalade was the only one left in the arena.
(Top photo: Michael Reeves/Getty Images)
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