Brooks Koepka bashed and buried the field over the first three rounds at Bethpage Black, and then held on for dear life Sunday to win the 2019 PGA Championship. While Long Island’s ostentatiously difficult public golf course chewed up the world’s best players — only six players in the 156-man field finished below par — the 29-year-old finished with an eight-under-par 272 and fought off a huge scare from Dustin Johnson — the world’s No. 1 player. With the wire-to-wire win, Koepka is the first golfer to hold back-to-back, concurrent major titles. And of the last nine championships played, the hulking West Palm Beach native has claimed four.
Koepka entered Sunday with a seven-stroke lead, a lead no golfer had ever blown at the tournament after 54 holes. He nearly blew it anyway. Johnson, who has similar ball-shaping skills, uses an equally intense workout regimen and is one of Koepka’s best friends, mounted a furious comeback, firing a 69 while leading the field in strokes gained off the tee (2.32), according to Data Golf. Johnson pulled within a single stroke of the lead with three holes remaining, but bogeyed two consecutive holes to fall out of contention. Koepka rallied to stem the tide and ended his day by hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy.
This was quite the departure from Thursday, when Koepka carded a course-record 63, a showcase he aptly described as “a crazy day.” With Koekpa four shots clear of the field, Las Vegas bookmakers installed him with 5-to-4 odds to win after one day of competition. He quickly made those odds seem conservative as he followed it up with a 65 to extend the lead. Paired with Tiger Woods in the opening two rounds, Koepka steamrolled golf’s prodigal son by 17 strokes across two days.
Golf has become a power-driven sport, and few, if any, people on tour supply more than Koepka, who frequently appears to be taking a machete to his ball. He certainly set the standard this week, leading the field in strokes gained tee-to-green in each of the first three rounds and in total, according to Data Golf. But even that undersells how precise his irons were, as Koepka also led the tournament in strokes gained on shots approaching the green.
On golf’s biggest stages, Koepka shows up to win. It makes you wonder: Why doesn’t he collect more trophies in the PGA Tour’s garden-variety events? With two non-major PGA Tour wins and one European Tour title, Koepka’s major wins now outnumber his minor ones. More than half (57.1 percent) of his career wins have come at major championships, which is a higher share than any other active golfer who has won at least two majors. For comparison, less than 18 percent of Woods’s career victories have come at majors.
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In most of Koepka’s victories, the entire tournament feels calculated, as though he’s playing out a simulation that he ran through a thousand times before he took the course. Get-off-your-seat moments are few and far between with Koepka, who looks as though he was engineered in a lab and delivers relentless power while leaving events largely lusterless. Some of that is because Koepka has the demeanor of a world-class poker player. Some of it is how easily he lays waste to a golf course. But on Sunday, we learned that golf’s RoboCop can still bleed. The wheels fell off, and he had to dig deep to finish off his best friend. But Koepka did just that, making history as he evolved into a new type of champion: one who’s proved he can survive.