It took his major championship total from the hefty four that had held firm for four long, trying, injury-addled years and upped it to five, alongside such bright lights as Seve Ballesteros and among only 20 men with at least that many. It made him the only player with that many since 1990 beyond Tiger Woods (15) and Phil Mickelson (six). It took his total of PGA Championship wins to three, more than anyone else in the stroke play era except Woods (four) and Jack Nicklaus (five).
It even made this 33-year-old Floridian into something of a real New Yorker — it became his third major title on three different courses in this state, counting those Long Island bullies Shinnecock Hills and Bethpage Black. It even made him the first player to win a major while playing on the infant LIV Golf circuit, the Saudi-backed money bonanza.
Beyond numbers, it reintroduced the idea of the largeness of Koepka’s guts, which finished their work after a tap-in on No. 18 and gave way to a gigantic smile. The winner had played the last three rounds in 66-66-67, finished at 9 under par and bested Viktor Hovland, who challenged almost all day long before landing at 7 under, and Scottie Scheffler, who challenged late before also landing at 7 under.
“It feels damned good,” Koepka said after four years without a major title, short for most but perhaps long for him. “Yeah, this one is definitely special. I think this one is probably the most meaningful of them all with everything that’s gone on, all the crazy stuff over the last few years. But it feels good to be back — and to get number five.”
He had a lot to contend with on a day when the loudest booms came from PGA club pro Michael Block’s hole-in-one on No. 15, followed by Block’s extraordinary up-and-down on No. 18 to snare him a share of 15th place and a spot in the 2024 PGA Championship. But Koepka resumed the pressure prowess that marked his run from 2017 to 2019, when he won four of nine, and he discontinued his odd pratfalls of Sundays, which puzzled onlookers at the 2020 and 2021 PGA Championships and the 2023 Masters. His closing 75 at Augusta National kept him up all night, he said, but also seemed to fuel what happened at Oak Hill, a 7,394-yard course redesigned by Andrew Green into some sort of major fairness museum.
“I’m very pleased with what I took from it,” he said of the Masters. “I’m pleased with the honesty I was able to get into” — especially, he said, in a talk with his best friend and brother’s caddie who, he said, “ripped into me.” It all brought him “back to having a chance every time I tee it up,” he said, a throwback to his soaring confidence of the late 2010s before knee surgery in March 2021 and a long and winding recovery from same.
The conclusion that looked foregone early on and then lost its foregone-ness became foregone again at No. 16, where Koepka stood at 9 under and Hovland at 8 under. It came with a dud. It came with a 9-iron that traveled 17 feet in a fairway bunker and smacked against the bunker wall.
It did not come from Koepka, of course.
It came from Hovland, the 25-year-old Norwegian by way of Oklahoma State who has spent the past three major Sundays around the thick of contention. All day long, Hovland played alongside Koepka and scored pretty much alongside Koepka, usually lurking within one shot while sometimes drifting to two and using some lovely iron play to extract himself from thickets.
Now, just as he looked poised to make his first hard charge at a major title, he whacked one that embedded into the bunker lip, foretelling the double bogey that ensued. “Just didn’t get out of the bunker, plugged in lip, tried to get a drop and made a double bogey,” Hovland summarized with lasting disappointment.
He said, “I felt like I played really solid.”
And he said, “But Brooks was hard to catch.”
And he said, “He’s not going to give you anything, and I didn’t really feel like I gave him anything, either — until 16.”
Sensing the chance to slam the door, Koepka plied his uncommon talent for slamming doors. Having stood over there for a good while as Hovland sorted out the lie and the rules related to the lie, Koepka quickly shipped an approach from 157 yards to 4 feet 8 inches. His birdie would take him to 10 under, and Hovland’s double would take him to 6 under.
The tournament had ended before it ended, and the Koepka approach joined his tapestry of mastery throughout the day. That would include the 163-yarder to four feet on No. 2, the 212-yarder to four feet on the par-3 No. 3 and the 95-yarder to nine feet on No. 4. Then, in his second exhibition on clinching, after bogeys on Nos. 6 and 7 howled at a man who had made only one in the previous 30 holes, Koepka rolled in a nerveless eight-footer for birdie on No. 10, a doubtless 11-footer for birdie on No. 12 and a two-putt birdie after smacking it confidently to the green on the par-4 No. 14.
A par putt on No. 13 might have exceeded all of them for sheer audacity amid pressure because there Koepka’s clunker from 136 yards left him 61 feet from the hole before he hit it past to 10 feet, before he rolled in that 10-footer downhill without any apparent horror.
He had steadied himself again while others wobbled more — Bryson DeChambeau with an even-par 70 to finish at 3 under, Rory McIlroy with a 69 for 2 under, Justin Rose with a 71 to finish at 1 under. He looked again like that imperturbable sort who could only tell of the two years of wobbles that preceded.
“It’s been a long road,” he said of his recovery from a grisly dislocated kneecap. “… I know I seem like this big, bad, tough guy on the golf course that doesn’t smile, doesn’t do anything, but if you catch me off the golf course, I’ll let you know what’s going on.” He had done just that on a reality show where he spoke of his self-doubts, and he said retirement “definitely kind of crossed my mind,” and now he had traveled all the way back to himself, the great clincher.