At the Masters last month, Bob Koepka was following his kid Brooks, who happened to be back on top of yet another major championship leaderboard, down in Amen Corner. After some pre-tournament drama about how he’d lost too much weight for a vanity magazine shoot, Koepka was back to doing what he does at major championships. He’d opened with a first-round 66 and appeared on his way to perhaps a third major in four starts. Koepka is a machine at the game’s biggest events and he was going to work again at Augusta.
Only his dad was half-watching Brooks and half-watching the group behind, where Justin Rose was playing. Bob had taken Rose in his one-and-done pool so wanted to keep tabs on the Englishman battling to make the cut. But what about your own kid? He crushes it at the majors and here he is leading again at the game’s biggest event! Forget about Rose! Your kid is leading and you should have taken him for your pool! Don’t you regret not taking him?
“Nah, I figured I’ll use him for the PGA.”
It turns out Bob Koepka is good at raising superstar golfers and also PGA Tour one-and-done pools. Taking Brooks for any major at this point, however, is not exactly rocket science. The Masters? Sure, go for it. His length off the tee and all-around game will be a tasty choice there for years. The PGA Championship? At Bethpage? Absolutely, he’s perfectly suited and the favorite for a reason. The U.S. Open? Sure, why not, he’s won the last two of them. How about the Open overseas? That style of golf has to throw him for a loop, right? Well, uh, he’s been inside the top 10 in his last two starts there, too.
So this week comes as a surprise to no one. Koepka did what he does at the majors and became the first player in the history of golf to hold back-to-back U.S. Opens and back-to-back PGA Championships. He’s now won four of his last nine major starts and even when he’s not winning, he’s around rattling the cage of the leaders. Like Tiger coming at you in his peak, Brooksy coming will only continue to be the most nerve-wracking of chaser options if you happen to be a leader at a major.
This was not a convincing Sunday stroll but Koepka got it done in some brutal conditions at one of the very toughest major venues out there. Some idiots, like me, presumed the entire championship over on Friday night and then dared to envision Brooks winning this in Tiger-at-Pebble like fashion. None of that materialIzed on the weekend and instead went the other way on Sunday for Koepka. His seven-shot margin at the start of the day evaporated to just a single shot with about an hour to go in the championship.
Dustin Johnson, Brooks’ box-jumping partner and best friend down in South Florida, had put the pressure on just a couple groups ahead and seemed to be the only player in the field moving in the right direction. Koepka, on the other hand, looked like everyone else in the field just desperately hanging on and simply trying to make a par. He said after the round he didn’t think he played that poorly, but he could not find a fairway and that is deadly at Bethpage Black. There are bogeys and doubles and triples all over the course but it took Koepka 28 holes to make his first bogey this week. Then he made four in a row late on Sunday and the crowd started chanting “DJ! DJ! DJ!” right to his face as his cushion melted and his self-proclaimed “I don’t feel pressure” axiom was put to the test.
But then DJ remembered this was a major and not The Barclays and immediately gave two shots back with consecutive bogeys at the 16th and 17th holes. Koepka stopped the bleeding with pars at the tougher 15th and 16th holes and it felt like a wrap. It felt like a wrap on Thursday night and while the pictures weren’t pretty on Sunday, it’s unclear if that short span of tension on Sunday makes Koepka now human or just reinforces that he’s the farthest thing from a Greg Norman or lesser modern star that would have kept bleeding it away down the back nine. There was tension and nothing about the outcome changed. Even the automaton himself admitted the round was “stressful” and that he did not want to play another hole of golf after sneaking into the clubhouse two clear of the field.
We’ve seen him now win majors on soft courses, windy courses, firm courses, bomber’s courses, and courses considered strategic masterpieces. We’ve seen him come from behind on the weekend and win from in front on the weekend. We’ve seen him hold on under the pressure of this vanishing margin and in the mania of Tiger whipping St. Louis crowds into a frenzy while making at charge at him.
It was Tiger’s former caddie Stevie Williams that pulled back the curtain on this possibility four years ago in an interview with Golf Digest. Williams looped for Tiger when he played the greatest golf of all time and was caddying for Adam Scott, whose swing is often drooled over as the very best in the world. Rory McIlroy had dominated the preceding summer and appeared to be the lead post-Tiger superstar. Jordan Spieth had won the Masters matching Tiger’s record score at Augusta. But Williams focused on Koepka, who had yet to make much of a dent in the States and in major championships.
“Once in a great while, a player comes along who hits a golf ball the way it was meant to be hit. Powerful, piercing, the perfect trajectory. Of the young players out there, one I’ve seen has that special ball flight: Brooks Koepka. Adam and I were paired with him at the Open Championship last year, and from his first tee shot on, I thought, This kid is special. Obviously he’s searching to find the other parts of the puzzle, but I haven’t seen a ball flight like that since Tiger, and before that, Johnny Miller.”
Williams could be a detestable goon but he did know the sight and sound of a different kind of a strike better than maybe anyone on the planet.
Four years later, Koepka has come the closest to approximating anything that Tiger did with Williams. That will never be done again, but Koepka has come the closest of any of these superstars in the carousel since Tiger ran into the fire hydrant a decade ago. He played with Tiger for two days this week when all the hype had been on Woods resuming his chase for Jack Nicklaus’ record and then beat him by 17 shots over 36 holes.
Koepka can be dry and too cool for school. When he came up, he was reputedly cocky and now that he’s winning majors at this clip, he’s started to talk his shit publicly. He’s gone at colleagues for slow play, called out Sergio Garcia for “acting like a child” when every other pro went soft and said nothing, and point blank said he’s more focused and unbothered than anyone out there. The delivery can be dry but the content is absolutely not boring. It may have been in the past but not anymore if you’re paying attention. Here’s hoping yet another major will free him up to talk his shit even more. He’s earned it.
Pro golf is deeper than ever and four-in-nine may not be a sustainable pace, but there’s no reason to think he won’t be near the top of the leaderboard again in a month in the final round at Pebble Beach. This is what he does at the majors and if you’re in a one-and-done pool and somehow haven’t used him yet, please write him in now for either Pebble or Portrush.