Koepka handles stress, reaps rewards

Pro Golf

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Brooks Koepka should know as well as anyone that nothing in golf comes easily.

His well-documented journey to the PGA Tour took him to remote outposts like Kenya and Kazakhstan. Even after Koepka won a second straight U.S. Open last summer, which no one had done in 29 years, it didn’t seem enough to be the first name mentioned among the next generation of stars.

So he spent three days setting records at Bethpage Black in the PGA Championship — the first player to shoot 63 in consecutive years in the majors, the lowest 36-hole score in major championship history and a seven-shot lead, the largest ever for 54 holes in the PGA Championship.

And then he endured the toughest day of his career Sunday, which turned into the most rewarding.

“I’m glad I’ve got this thing sitting next to me,” Koepka said as he looked at the shiny Wanamaker Trophy. “It’s very satisfying, this one. This is definitely the most satisfying of all the ones I’ve won.”

Moments earlier, after he turned a potential meltdown into the kind of clutch play that has defined his career, Koepka draped his muscular arms around the top of the trophy and let out a deep sigh from stress and satisfaction, and then he smiled.

Koepka said at the start of the week that majors are sometimes the easiest to win.

This one should have been.

It wasn’t.

His seven-shot lead was down to one with four holes to play and the No. 1 player in the world — Dustin Johnson, his best friend in golf — was piecing together the best round of a final day in 25 mph gusts that made Bethpage Black as fearsome as ever.

Koepka answered with all the right shots. Johnson faded with two bogeys. Koepka closed with a 4-over 74, the highest final round by a PGA champion in 15 years, and he didn’t care how it looked.

His place in history was secure. He joined Tiger Woods as the only players to win back-to-back in the PGA Championship since it switched to stroke play in 1958. He became the only player to hold back-to-back titles in two majors at the same time.

Four years ago, he had one PGA Tour title in his first full season as a full member. Now he has four majors out of the last eight he has played, a stretch not seen since Woods won seven out of 11 after capturing the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.

“I just don’t understand why he doesn’t do it more often,” said Rory McIlroy, who won his four majors in a span of 15. “He obviously gets into these mindsets of the majors, and he really goes and gets into a different state. You’d obviously have to ask him. But it’s awesome. It’s great to watch.”