PITTSFORD, NY – Six weeks ago Sunday, Brooks Koepka didn’t sleep. He had a passion for exorcisms. After everything – a devastating knee injury, the pain of unfulfilled ambition, the ridicule and the broken golf game that helped shape him as a man – he competed in the Masters Tournament, and then he panicked.
The finisher vowed, he recalled over the weekend at Oak Hill Country Club, that he “wouldn’t think the way I thought I was going to the finals.” On Sunday evening, Koepka got his confirmation: a major victory at the PGA Championship, which made him the first major tournament since 2019. It was Koepka’s fifth major victory, tying him with figures such as Seve Ballesteros and Byron Nelson.
It also made him the first member of LIV Golf, the premier league founded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, to win a major title since joining the circuit. And while Koepka’s victory at Oak Hill may not resolve some of the criticisms of LIV — its ties to a repressive government, its conflicting goals, its promotion of an arms race in the old game — it did put to rest the argument that men who play the 54-hole course can win at the majors. a lot of golf.
It also put to rest the idea, which seemed to be off the mark after the Masters at Augusta National, that Koepka’s controversial days were over. But this is a 33-year-old player whose results in the big 2022 season look like this: missed cuts, tie for 55, solo 55, missed cuts. It was easy to forget that in 2021, the streak went like this: miss the cut, tie for second, tie for fourth, tie for sixth.
By the end of last year, he had a nagging feeling that his recovery was nearing completion and that he might once again be important. By the end of January, he said, he was sure about it.
“He’s back to health,” said Cameron Smith, who won the British Open last summer and joined LIV at the end of the year. “I think that brings a little more confidence and being out there and being able to do your own thing.”
It didn’t seem that way as recently as Thursday, when the prospect of Koepka going all-star seemed more unlikely than impossible. He opened his tournament with a two-over 72 and, by his own account, was a bit out of sorts and struggled to hit the ball the way he wanted to. He couldn’t remember, he said, the last time he was hit so badly.
But he wasn’t far off as the tournament, the first major played at Oak Hill since the effort to restore the dreaded test that marked the course designed by Donald J. Ross, emerged as one of the PGA’s most dangerous tournaments in recent memory. over the years, often evoking the challenges of the 2008 race at Oakland Hills in Michigan. Of the 156 players who competed last week, only 11 finished below par – a departure from 2013, when the PGA Championship was held at Oak Hill and 21 players finished in the red.
Hardness came even with the course, with its scary and cramped rooms, being more welcoming on Sundays than it used to be. Smith, Cam Davis, Kurt Kitayama and Sepp Straka all shot 65s on Sunday, moving them to the top of the leaderboard. Patrick Cantlay, who made one of the tournament’s rare eagles, carded a 66. Michael Block, whose day job is the general manager at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in southeast Los Angeles, had a hole-in-one on No. 15, the first. PGA Championship ace club champion since 1996.
But the main focus on Sunday was on Koepka; Viktor Hovland, new Norwegian talent; and Scottie Scheffler, the No. 2 player in the Official World Golf Ranking. Koepka, whose standing has faded because of his ties to LIV, whose games are not recognized in the ranking system, entered Sunday at No. )
Koepka entered the first tee box with a one-run lead and briefly extended his lead when he made birdie on the second hole. He had played the first three days, always hitting the green but leaving himself with long putts. On Sunday, with the pin front-right of the green, he needed less than 5 feet.
His birdie on the third hole also required little, after his longest shot of the tournament on the Vista hole, moving his lead to three strokes.
The sixth hole, which scares many players throughout the game, came into view. The par-4 problem that the part finished with an average of 4.52 strokes, Koepka survived well on Thursday, Friday and Saturday: in the first three rounds. On Sunday, however, his shot hit the right, in the area of Allen’s Creek which would have been better avoided. He took a putt and then, about 191 yards from the hole, hit it on the green and eventually escaped with a bogey. Although Koepka followed with another bogey, Hovland also stumbled on No. 7.
At that point, Koepka led Hovland by one stroke. Scheffler, in the clear since winning the Masters last year, and Bryson DeChambeau, the winner of the 2020 US Open, were the leading three.
Koepka responded with an interesting line: birdie, bogey, birdie. Hovland had a chance for a birdie on the 12th hole, but his tap from about 15 feet to the left edge of the cup. With six holes to play, Koepka’s advantage was back to two strokes. Two holes later, it was down to one.
Havoc for Hovland reached No. 16, when, after his boy shot in the bedroom, he used a 9-iron. With less than 175 yards to the hole, he swung and blasted his ball – not on the green, but on the lip of the fairway. His fourth shot landed on the green. The bogey putt was missed, leaving him with a double bogey. Koepka, in pursuit of his third PGA Championship victory, made birdie to take a four-stroke lead.
Scheffler made a birdie putt on the 18th green shortly after cutting Koepka’s approach. Koepka himself also reduced the deficit with a bogey on No. 17.
He got to the 18th tee, still, after all, with two shots to save. He didn’t make a bogey on the hole, playing 497 yards on Sunday, all week. His shot ran 318 yards and entered the fairway, a high point that was far from the fairgrounds, ready to see if, after all, Koepka was really back.
He reached the green with the next swing, applause rose as he climbed the hill. He knelt down. He approached the ball, settled down and threw it forward. The ball stopped short – three inches, according to game officials.
Of course, there would be a final confusion.
He tried again. The ball fell into the cup.
Of course, after everything, Koepka came back.