PGA Championship 2019: The Brooks Koepka Sunday-at-the-PGA Diary: A death march, a coronation, a coup
If this minute-by-minute diary had a subtitle, it would be: "How I learned to stop worrying and love the king." And when I say "king," I mean it—the word coronation has at its root "corona," Latin for crown, and with a massive lead heading into the final round of the PGA, Brooks Koepka is set to become the reigning monarch of the sport. Better than Rory, better than Jordan, and the heir apparent to Tiger Woods. That's big stuff, and a little out of nowhere.
Koepka has become an increasingly fascinating figure in the world of golf—a series of words I couldn't have imagined myself writing even six months ago. Since then, though, I've had to reconsider everything I thought I knew. His personality has bloomed in a big way—or our awareness of it has, anyway—to the point that I now eagerly anticipate each Koepka headline. Whether it's his hilarious method for dealing with slow playing partners (take a really long bathroom break early to put them all on the clock and force a faster pace), or his recent tendency to insult the sport itself (he called golf boring, said he blacks out in the middle of rounds and suggested they shorten a round to 15 holes), or putting a literal clown nose on Brandel Chamblee, or totally redefining how I think about majors (I now kinda believe him that they're the "easiest ones to win"), Koepka is unmissable. "You're actually probably getting the real me now," he said earlier this year. "I think before I was just trying to be politically correct and not stir any bubbles and just kind of go on with things and be unnoticed … I'm not going to hold anything back."
I believe him, and today is all about appreciating the new man on a critical day in his journey. Koepka has shed the false shroud of boredom that cloaked him for so long, and for this Sunday, at least, I am with him every second of the way. Let's go!
3:05 p.m.: OK, I am settled in and free from all family obligations for the next four hours, which means I am officially on … nap watch! Just kidding, Golf Digest editors. If you happen to spot any 90-minute gaps between entries, it's only because I'm earnestly researching Koepka's history, or something, and not because it's 93 degrees in Durham, N.C., and this couch is extremely inviting.
In golf news, Koepka is one over on the day after a bogey on one, but he just hit a solid iron into the par-3 third, and we got our first piece of hot gossip from the CBS team: "Yesterday, Koepka was asked if he expected to win. (30 second dramatic pause) Yes." OK!
They just came back from commercial and played Koepka's presser where he said he thinks he can get to 10 majors. What's craziest about this week is that it now seems plausible. He has zero chance to match Tiger Woods' overall record, but it now feels like he could get kinda close in majors, and that's outrageous.
3:10 p.m.: It's not going to get better than this for telecast anecdotes. I'm paraphrasing, but just barely:
"He was asked about his resting heart rate, and he said it's the same in majors as it is sitting on the couch."
(pause for everyone to be impressed)
"But he doesn't know what it is."
"That's right. He's never measured it."
3:14 p.m.: Just going to say this about Harold Varner III, who I like: He's lucky that his first "in the final group at a major" moment is coming in this situation, where nobody is going to remember his role since Koepka is being Koepka, because man, he is extremely nervous. After missing a short putt to double bogey on the third hole, he yanked the hell out of his drive on four, and right now 78 seems more likely than 68.
3:16 p.m.: Hey, a Rory sighting! Last time we did this diary, he was winning the Players. Now? He's so deep in the rough that it might start charging him rent, or become his common-law wife, or adopt him and raise him as a child of the grass. In short, it hasn't been his ideal week.
3:20 p.m.: Varner just hit from the left rough … and the ball went left. If Koepka loses, it will be because of survivor's guilt after Varner gets permanently lost in the woods. Hilariously, he just decided to hit from the fairway, and stuck his second shot on the green, giving himself an eagle putt. Poor Harold.
3:23 p.m.: Just for fun, I'm trying to determine how close somebody would have to get before I considered it a legitimate threat to Koepka. The margin is five right now, and I guess if it got to three it might raise an eyebrow. Just one eyebrow, mind you, but still …
3:28 p.m.: Not since watching the U.S. Ryder Cup team in Paris have I seen a group of people give up on something so completely as the CBS broadcasting team has given up on pronouncing Jazz Janewattananond's last name.
3:36 p.m.: Here's something vaguely interesting: After today, assuming all goes to plan, Koepka will have four major victories and three more "normal" wins on the PGA and European Tours. I put it out to Twitter whether anyone had ever finished a career with more than one major and also surpassed their "non-major" total, and according to Bob Harig and Ryan Ballengee, it looks like the only one is Andy North, who won two U.S. Opens and one "Westchester Classic." So Koepka is definitely in uncharted territory here.
3:47 p.m.: Brooks is a little all over the place off the tee right now, and though my eyebrows are still very low on my face, it's worth pointing out after his drive on six finds the rough that DJ is creeping up, just five shots off the lead and putting together the best round of the day … and while that probably doesn't mean a thing, you'll forgive me for trying to manufacture a little drama today.
3:56 p.m.: But of course, he makes par, and he's a third of the way through his round. Meanwhile, DJ's on eight, and he just dodged a massive bullet on the par 3 by hitting a tree and bouncing safely to the hillside. If that had somehow gone in the water, the tournament would basically be over.
4:10 p.m.: DJ just stuck an iron on 9, and my eyebrows are feeling mighty twitchy. Koepka is safely on the green at eight, dodging one of the potential areas that could tank his round in the water. And elsewhere, mark this weekend down as a huge one for Jordan Spieth, who still has a lot of work to do to reach peak form, but who is putting the lights out and thriving on a very tough course.
4:15 p.m.: Let's talk about Brooks a little as we wait to see how close this gets. Has there ever been a player like this who emerged in his late 20s after a period of relative anonymity, and then just exploded to become the best player in the sport within two years? I mean, prior to his U.S. Open win in 2017, this is a guy who had won once in Europe in 2014 and once in Phoenix in 2015. He had three top-fives in majors, perhaps signaling the performances to come, though predicting any of this was impossible. It's not like he was anonymous, if you knew golf, but there was basically no hype attending him before June 2017. Then, bam, he wins four majors in two years, and he's basically the best big-moment player of his generation. We knew it was coming with Tiger, with Rory, with Jordan. We expected it with Rose, Sergio, Rickie. Phil's major explosion after age 30 was a long time coming. If you're really reaching, you can think about guys like Ernie Els, but his four majors happened over a very long span, and were accompanied by way more regular wins. When a Koepka-type run happens somewhat out of the blue, it usually happens with two or three majors in a short span, a la O'Meara and Harrington and Price, and it usually comes later in a career. But to win four, and to do it in your late 20s? That forces you to ask the question: How long can this go on? What's the ceiling?
This is a special thing we're witnessing, is I guess what I'm saying, and I think it's important to acknowledge the historical nature of what he's accomplishing. Worrying too much about the future can spoil the present, but sometimes the present is so astounding that you can't help it. That's what Brooks is bringing to golf right now.
4:36 p.m.: And let the love-fest continue: After a poor iron shot into 9, he just hit one of the best long lag putts you'll see all weekend, coming inches from sinking it for an improbable birdie. He'll tap in for par, and the fact is that when he's so stingy conceding anything, it's going to be murder to catch him. We're halfway home.
4:49 p.m.: A dagger of an iron into 10, plus a DJ bogey on 11, means this one? OVER. Time to put my Wolf Blitzer fake beard on, bang some drums and throw a flashy graphic on the screen. There are eight holes to play, but (screamy Blitzer monotone) WE CAN NOW PROJECT A BROOKS KOEPKA VICTORY. We can project it right to the moon.
5 p.m.: Barring a late collapse, this will be DJ's 17th top-10 in a major. It's still incredible to me that he has one win in all that time, and it adds some much-needed context to Koepka's "actually, the majors are easy" talking point. They are for him, apparently, but tell that to players like DJ and Rose and Sergio (much less Westwood), who are constantly in contention but have only finished the job once, and you'll likely get a very different answer. Or perhaps just a murderous glare. The truth is, you have to seize your opportunities when they present themselves, and even though it may be true that half the field can't compete, and half will falter under pressure, it's still not easy to withstand the pressure in the biggest moments. Going back to DJ, he's won six WGC events in 37 tries. That seems right, based on how good he is. But 1-for-40, which will be his major record after today, does not. And it illustrates the difference as well as anything else—no matter what Koepka says, majors are a grind.
5:07 p.m.: And he's a grinder extraordinaire, as he just showed on 11 by saving bogey with a tough putt. A day like today is about avoiding disaster as much as anything else, and disaster can't touch him right now.
5:28 p.m.: As I read back through this live diary, it's truly incredible how many jinxes I've inadvertently put on Koepka. It's at the point where if the demon spirits of the universe notice this blog at all, Koepka is beyond doomed. And in fact, in the real world, he's really starting to struggle. The lead is down to four strokes after yet another bogey at 12, and with just the final third of his round remaining, he's not quite as free and clear as I'm sure he would have liked to be. Granted, the conditions at Bethpage Black today are far harder than we saw on Thursday and Friday—Koepka's one over for the day is just fine, by field standards—it's interesting to see how the approach has changed on the weekend with a big lead. There's always a fine line between "smart" and "too conservative to win," and while Koepka is still wayyyy on the good side of that line, it's not impossible to envision this going the other way, which can't be comfortable for him. Luckily, he just dodged a DJ birdie on 14, and DJ is the only other game in town—after him, it's a bunch of players at three under.
5:32 p.m.: With yet another errant drive on 13, Koepka has to blast out from among a narrow tunnel of spectators, every phone camera directed at him. It's a fine shot, but it looks like another par 5 will pass without a birdie. Meanwhile, DJ stripes his tee shot on 15, and the eyebrows are ready to dance if he can shave off one more stroke…
5:40 p.m.: We've reached the "what a tremendous experience for Harold Varner" part of the telecast.
5:41 p.m.: Hoooooooooo baby. Koepka just missed his par putt on 13, the lead is three, the eyebrow is at last RAISED, and DJ has an eminently makeable birdie putt coming up on 15.
5:44 p.m.: D.J. made it. D.J. made it. (Sweats profusely, begins shouting) D.J. MADE IT.
5:47 p.m.: Brooks Koepka completely flies the green at 14. D.J. launches his drive on 16, the hardest hole on the course today per the AP's Doug Ferguson, straight down the middle. I am almost speechless. Will Golf Digest even publish this if Koepka loses? I mean … forget 10 majors. If Brooks can't close this out, will he ever win a fourth? I can't imagine a more devastating loss. And dear God, his pitch on 14 isn't that great, and he's probably going to bogey again!
5:49 p.m.: The fans are chanting "D.J., D.J." AT Koepka. What on earth is happening?
5:53 p.m.: Brooks makes his bogey putt, but it was not easy. In better news for the man currently on the verge of an epic collapse, DJ just hit a godawful approach on 16, and he's in the heavy stuff behind the green. But again, the lead is ONE SHOT.
5:57 p.m.: Koepka hits the fairway on 15, and it's impossible to overstate how much he needed that … particularly because DJ hit a solid pitch from the rough, and can escape with par on 16 … Faldo is calling out Koepka's body language, implying that he's nervous for the first time … but he's going to be a little less nervous, because D.J. just missed his par putt. The lead is back to two.
6:02 p.m.: Gotta be honest with you all—I wasn't ready for this. Wasn't ready for a nervous finish. I thought I'd spend a few hours considering the import of what Koepka has accomplished, and switching into frantic mode was not on the agenda. But here we are.
6:03 p.m.: Faldo is annoyed at the crowd for yelling at the top of D.J.'s backswing, and then drops an Austin Powers and Anchorman reference back-to-back. Three or four more, and he'll eventually get to 2019! The shot is not great, settling in heavy rough just off the fringe at the back of the incredibly narrow green. Feels like we're back in the situation where if Koepka can bury a big putt, he's back in the safety zone. But it's not going to happen on 15, where he leaves himself a tough three-footer for par … and makes it. Three holes left, and a very good time to end the four-bogey streak.
6:07 p.m.: D.J. apparently didn't like being in the hunt, because he's hemorrhaging strokes in crunch time—another bogey on 17 pushes the lead back to three, and just as quickly as it got close, it's going the other way.
6:10 p.m.: Brooks drills another drive on 16, and honestly? Fifteen seconds of the outcome being in doubt is more than I expected today. I'll take it. And I'm extremely glad I can slip right back into "legacy analysis mode."
6:14 p.m.: D.J.'s in the sand on 18. Brooks is on the green on 16. Nail, meet coffin.
6:20 p.m.: These players are both great, but I'll say this: The last 20 minutes show exactly why D.J. is 1-for-40 in majors, and Koepka is about to be 4-for-22.
6:24 p.m.: The honors continue to pour in for Koepka, who will displace D.J. as the No. 1 golfer in the world today.
6:27 p.m.: D.J. makes his par putt on 18, which means we're officially in the Van de Velde Zone, where only an unthinkable one-hole brain implosion can change the outcome. And literally nothing would be as shocking to me as Koepka doing a Van de Velde.
6:29 p.m.: BUT NOOO, Koepka bogeys 17! I thought it was in the bag! That puts the lead at two shots with one to play, which is not quite Van de Velde Zone.
6:30 p.m.: "Harold Varner, again trying to get out of the way." Tough but fair, CBS.
6:31 p.m.: I am far from the first one to make this observation, but it bears repeating: Feels like a really, really bad idea to let the people of Long Island host a Ryder Cup. This is going to be a madhouse in 2024. And now it's time for Koepka hit his drive on 18, which can't lose the tournament for him, but could probably win it...but that's not happening. It's in the sand left, and there's still some juice in this orange.
6:35 p.m.: This may be too reactionary right now, but it feels like, at the very least, this is going to chip away at Koepka's facade of invulnerability. Because this was a little ugly, even considering the course. And now he's on the downslope of the bunker, and though he makes a good out, he still has to hit a good wedge to give himself two putts for the win.
6:40 p.m.: But he did it! And in style—he drops it a few feet from the flag, and finally, FINALLY, this one is finito. There will be a lot of words and takes dropped in the aftermath, so here's mine: Everything I said above is true . . . he's the stud of his generation, and the new reigning champion of the sport. But the way this ended matters a little too—this was almost the greatest major collapse ever—and it will be fascinating to see what lingers the next time he's in contention. For now, though, Koepka is ascendant, and for all the reasons I've blathered on about for the last four hours, what he's accomplished in the past two years is more than just remarkable—it's singular.
6:42 p.m.: Final thought: Jim Nantz clearly stole the word "coronation" from me for his winning call. I'll never forgive him.