FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – It appeared as if Brooks Koepka was in his own little world allowing nothing to affect him for much of the four days of the PGA Championship, where he began the final round Sunday with a seemingly insurmountable 7-shot lead.
However, when he walked off the 14th green with his fourth consecutive bogey, and saw his lead over good friend Dustin Johnson down to one stroke, he admitted to stress. Even the shrill voices in the large crowds at Bethpage Black turned on him, chanting “D.J! D.J.!” with some even yelling out the dreaded C (for choke)-word.
“It’s New York,” he said with a wry smile. “What do you expect when you’re half-choking it away?”
But Koepka knuckled down, parred the next two holes and got a cushion after Johnson bogeyed the 16th and 17th. The drama remained right up to his third shot on No. 18 but he got the job done with a par to win the PGA by two strokes for his fourth career major title – in eight attempts.
Koepka, 29, closed with a 74 and a 72-hole score of 8-under-par 272 to become the first player in golf history to hold back-to-back U.S. Open and PGA championships at the same time. But it was a grind as he tried to avoid the worst final-round collapse in major championship history -- Greg Norman blowing a 6-shot lead and losing the 1996 Masters to Nick Faldo.
“Today was definitely the most satisfying out of all of them for how stressful that round was; how stressful D.J. made that,” he said, the Wanamaker Trophy sitting a couple of feet away. “I know for a fact, that was the most excited I’ve ever been in my life ever there on 18.”
Johnson, who relinquished his spot as the world’s No. 1 player to Koepka, fired a 69, his fourth subpar round of the week, but wound up two shots short at 274.
Koepka struggled with the pressure of the final round as well as the difficult conditions at Bethpage, where a steady 20-mph wind sent seemingly well-struck shots heading wayward toward thick rough. Koepka hit just six fairways and 10 greens, his worst tally of the week in both categories.
The common theme on his bogeys from the 11th through 14th holes was missing the short grass off the tee. He failed to connect on 6-foot par putts at 11 and 13. On 14, a par-3, he air-mailed the green, pitched 18 feet past the hole and missed the par putt.
As he walked to the 15th tee, he admitted, “I was just in shock.”
“The hour spent from No. 11 to 14 was interesting,” he said. “When they started chanting, ‘D.J.!’ on 14, it actually kind of helped, to be honest with you. I think it helped me kind of refocus and hit a good one down 15. I think that was probably the best thing that could have happened. It was very, very stressful, the last hour and a half of that round.”
Meanwhile, Johnson brought the heat. He birdied the 15th hole for the fourth straight day to get to 8-under and two behind, and then trailed by one after Koepka’s bogey at 14. The 16th and 17th holes, however, were Johnson’s undoing.
He thought he hit a perfect approach into 16, but it flew over the green, and he missed a 7-footer for par. His tee shot at the par-3 17th nestled into a bad lie in rough behind the green and he couldn’t get up and down, dropping to 6-under.
“I hit two really good shots on 16 and I still don’t know how my ball went over the green there,” he said. “Obviously not a spot where you can go, but hit a great chip and a good putt, and made a 5."
Koepka kept it interesting with 3-putt bogey on 17 and walked up 18 with a 2-shot lead. He pulled his drive into heavy grass just outside a bunker and chopped his ball out to the fairway to a spot 68 yards from the hole, from where he hit his third shot to 6 feet.
He made the putt and delivered a vicious fist pump that might have knocked out Joe Frazier in his prime.
“It was nice to finish on 18,” he said. “I'm just glad we didn't have to play anymore, that's for sure.”