Wow. What a terrific PGA Championship. Where to begin?
How about. . . Brooks Koepka?
I remember covering the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, where this uber-talented young golfer from West Palm Beach, Fla., first flexed his considerable muscles.
At that time, there was a possibility that he was a one-hit wonder. But it seemed more likely that he was merely taking his first bow.
He was able to over-power golf holes that brought a lot of talented players to their knees. And he had an amazingly good short game for a big hitter.
Where other golfers have faltered after seeming destined for greatness, Koepka has proven to be the real deal. His win at Bethpage Black was all-around great stuff. It was historic, fine drama and a special display of what he can do with a golf club in his hands.
At the beginning of the week, we were wondering if Tiger Woods could give us another sign that he intended to take a run at Jack Nicklaus’ 18 majors.
Tiger didn’t have to win. Being in the hunt would have been nice. However, making his first appearance since his Masters win for the ages in April, Woods showed that rust and major championships don’t mix.
Next up? Pebble Beach, where Tiger won the 2000 U.S. Open by a whopping 15 strokes.
By Saturday night, we were left to wonder whether Brooks Koepka might beat Tiger to the Nicklaus punch.
Koepka, who led by seven strokes after 54 holes, showed on Sunday that he wasn’t an infallible golf machine, when Dustin Johnson put some heat on him by closing to within one shot.
But that should not diminish our appreciation for what Koepka has done in the last 23 months by winning four of the last eight majors.
He joins four other players who have won four majors in a similar time span: Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. That’s pretty good company.
Koepka, who will be going for three-peats at the U.S. Open in June and the PGA next May, now is the only player to hold two back-to-back major championships at the same time.
That ought to be enough for people to realize how good this guy is.
What took us so long? I wonder if it’s the name. If a guy named Jack Armstrong or Gene Sarazen IV or Duke Wayne had done this rather than Brooks Koepka, I suspect we would have jumped on the bandwagon sooner.
Whatever the reason, it’s a crowded bandwagon now.
“He’s built like Hulk Hogan and swings like Ben Hogan,’’ Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee said. ``I don’t know how you’re going to beat this guy.’’
After missing the cut, even living legend Tiger Woods took a moment to pay his respects to Koepka and his seven-shot 54-hole lead.
``What Brooksy did, he's driving it 330 yards in the middle of the fairway,’’ Woods said. ``He's got 9-irons when most of us are hitting 5-irons, 4-irons, and he's putting well. That adds up to a pretty substantial lead. Relative to the field, I was about that long, early in my career. When you're able to hit the ball much further than other players, he’s far enough down there to where he was able to get the ball on the green even when he was a little bit crooked. And he did all the little things right.’’
We all saw the combination of intensity, talent and will to win when Woods was becoming a dominant figure in golf in the late ’90s. Tiger sees those ingredients in Koepka.
``[It’s] not only the four out of eight [majors],'' Woods said, ``but also it's the journey that he's [taken] to get to where he's at—to go to the Challenge Tour, the European Tour. He paid his dues. He found a game and a dedication that he needed to play well and he's doing that.’’
While Woods took his first steps as a teenager, Koepka, who turned 29 on May 3, has bloomed in his late 20s. He also had a serious wrist injury that kept him out of the 2018 Masters and briefly took him off our radar.
``Everyone's different,’’ Woods said. ``Everyone peaks differently and does things differently. And he's found what he needs to do for himself. . . at what, 29? He's got many more years ahead of him where he can do this.’’
At Koepka’s current pace, he will catch Woods, who has won 15 majors, in 2025. And Nicklaus a couple of years after that.
Just kidding. Or not.
And how about. . . Moving the PGA from August to May?
This was such a brilliant change, the only question is, Why wasn’t it done a long time ago?
The move was made so the FedEx Cup could be played in August, which is supposed to raise its profile because it won’t be competing with football. We’ll see how that goes.
Golf is about major championships. In the past, there was a gap in May, when everyone interested in golf is focused on golf.
This move to a May date gives the PGA, which has traditionally been the weakest of the four majors, a much better chance of being regarded as an equal partner. August was too late in the season. The PGA was competing with a bunch of things—baseball, summer vacations, the anticipation of football. And it lacks the natural stature of the other three majors.
The British Open is the Granddaddy of them all and is pretty much the world’s championship. The U.S. Open is our national championship. The Masters is an iconic harbinger of spring. They are always going to have special places in the hearts of golfers.
The PGA now moves closer to that status. That is especially true because PGA officials don’t obsess about their golf course the way USGA officials tinker with U.S. Open setups. The PGA also has quietly been choosing excellent venues such as Bethpage, venues that stand up in comparison with U.S. Open venues.
It always has counted on players’ resumes just the same as the other three.
And now, playing it in May, it has a chance to receive more recognition.
This tournament at Bethpage provided great drama on a big stage. Koepka’s outstanding play on a treacherous golf course will occupy a prominent page in chronicles of major-championship golf as well as the PGA Championship.
It was such a good tournament that Dustin Johnson, who has often been ridiculed by galleries at past majors, not only became a gallery favorite. He became a gallery favorite at Bethpage, considered among the toughest crowds in golf.
And how about that?