PGA Sunday: Major Brooks Koepka Is Back
He's now a 5-time major winner who handled everything Oak Hill threw at him. More on the 33-year-old's historic win, Michael Block's cinematic ace and CBS's mixed-bag Sunday.
Just like old times.
The same Brooks Koepka who struggled to close out April’s Masters got left behind for the fearless four-time major winner. Koepka’s final round 67 came an inch from his third straight 66 and was enough to hold off the 65-shooting Scottie Scheffler and Viktor Hovland by two strokes.
Koepka’s PGA Championship triumph looks even more impressive given that it’s the same injury-plagued star who nearly a year ago was so unsure of his future prospects that he reversed course to grab LIV Golf’s easy money.
Now, following a week where Koepka and several LIV peers handled the magnificently replenished Oak Hill, expect the sportwashing enterprise to have a pep in its step.
“I definitely think it helps LIV but I'm more interested in my own self right now, to be honest with you,” Koepka said with the freshly engraved Wannamaker Trophy by his side for the third time in six years. “Yeah, it's a huge thing for LIV, but at the same time I'm out here competing as an individual at the PGA Championship. I'm just happy to take this home for the third time.”
Because of the uncertainty caused by a knee injury repaired by noted orthopedist Neal El Attrache and saddled with last month’s crushing Masters loss to Jon Rahm, Koepka said this is the sweetest of his major victories.
“I spent the whole night thinking about it. I knew what I did and I knew I was never going to come out and think that way again. Didn't do that.”
Koepka said he “felt in control all day” and his peers will not disagree despite several recording birdies galore at the rain-soaked Donald Ross design which all week barely resembled the grim obedience test of years past.
Koepka played several “signature” shots Sunday that will be recalled for years to come: driving the 14th green, sticking it close on 16 as Hovland took an unplayable lie drop, and an epic 11th hole bunker shot that turned a possible plugged lie debacle into a near par, easy bogey.
Koepka never would reveal what he took from Augusta but suggested it came after much soul searching. He refuted a suggestion from one of his instructors, Claude Harmon III, that the issue had something to do with not letting go of certain shots.
“No, that wasn't what was going on. It was something completely different. It was something I took to the first tee. I think, look, I learned from it. I'm very pleased with what I took from it, and I'm pleased with the honesty I was able to dive into. My best friend, actually, my brother's caddie, my best friend, I think we stayed up probably most of the night just chatting about it, and he kind of ripped into me pretty good about it, so made sure.
“He was texting me all last night about it and making sure that I wouldn't fall in the same trap.”
Koepka did admit to working at slowing down under pressure.
“I've got to slow down, for me,” he said. “I've got to start walking slower because my stride just wants to keep going. Want to be the first one to the ball and hit it and just play the quickest round of golf ever.
“I've got to take my time and really just kind of assess things, but it's difficult to say. I don't think my hands or my heart rate gets up. I don't think about the next shot. I always just think about what's going on. Like, if you walk down 16, I'm not thinking, oh, I've got to do this on 17 or 18. I'm just thinking, whatever the next shot might be and then until I run out of shots.”
Koepka never came close to running out of shots. He was above average in all statistical categories and played like the champion of 2017-18. But Sunday’s win moves him up a level and into a special tier of all-time greats. And Koepka’s spectacular handling of Rochester’s major exam sets the 33-year-old up for more opportunities. No matter what tour he plays.
By The Numbers
20: Players to win five or more majors (Koepka joins the group with his win Sunday).
3: Players with three or more PGA Championship wins in the stroke play era (Koepka, Nicklaus, Woods).
44 of 72. Greens in regulation hit by Koepka.
32 of 56. Fairways hit by Koepka.
316’3”. Feet of putts made by Koepka.
0. Three putts by Koepka.
0. Double bogeys by Koepka.
1. Hole in one for the week (Michael Block, T15, 15th hole).
T15 payout: $288,333.33
1-2-12-3. Difficulty rank of the par 4 seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth holes.
73.11. Oak Hill scoring average over rounds 1, 2 and 3.
70.66. Final round scoring average.
2.45. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the stroke differential from rounds 1-3 versus the final day is the second largest at a PGA Championship over the last 30 years (Kiawah Island in 2012 played to a stroke average of 75.12 for rounds 1-3 and 71.65 in round 4).
10. Holes that played under par Sunday.
65: Low round of the tournament posted Sunday by Cameron Smith (T9), Sepp Straka (T7), Cameron Davis (T4), Kurt Kitayama (T4) and Scottie Scheffler (T2).
T7th-T4th-T2nd. Hovland’s last three major championship finishes.
The Hole In One Heard Round Rochester
Despite an obvious hole-in-one roar enveloping a 15th hole ampitheater setting ringed by fans and corporate tents, Michael Block was unsure he’d aced the revitalized par 3. Caddie John Jackson could be seen consulting his rangefinder to spot the ball. But playing partner Rory McIlroy delivered the news first.
Granted, the hole was playing into sun and the entire week was already a dreamy blur for the club pro from Orange County.
Block dunked the 7-iron tee shot. It’s a good thing, too. Even catching the slightest bit of the flagstick would have sent the ball away from the cup and just about anywhere around the diabolical green returned after having been dismantled before the 1980 PGA. The slam dunk’s velocity meant a rules official had to visit and repair the cup for remaining groups.
If there was any doubt about the Golf Gods were working overtime to hand deliver one of the more satisfying major championship performances of the 21st century, the absurd cherry atop Block’s party confirmed they still have the touch.
He explained every detail of the ace:
“Rory hits. He misses the green right. I'm just like, oh, yeah, you can't go there; right? So I'm over my tee shot, and the crowd goes crazy. Like, the crowd went nuts and I had not even hit yet. So I had to step back. I'm, like, this is pretty cool; right? This huge reception, and I haven't seen hit.
”So I sit back for a second. I'm, like, this is cool, but I've got this nice flight at 7. I could hit a hard 8, but all day long when I tried to hit anything hard, I was pulling it. So I was, like, I'm going to flight a little 7 in there into the breeze from 150. It was playing about 167 in my head. So I hit it, and it's just right at it, but I can't say it, just like now, and all of the you sudden it disappears, whatever. I'm like, cool. I'm like, thanks, guys. Rory is walking down the pathway 20 yards away from me and turns around and starts walking back towards me with his arms open to give me a hug. And he goes, you made it.
“I go, what? I'm like, seriously? He's like, yeah, you did. He had to tell me five times that I made it. So it was a pretty cool experience to have Rory be telling me that I made a hole-in-one in front of God knows how many people that were supporting me.”
It was the first hole-in-one at a PGA Championship since Byeong Hun-An in 2020 at TPC Harding Park.
The last club professional to make a hole-in-one at a PGA Championship was George Bowman on Valhalla’s third hole in 1996.
“It was an amazing golf shot,” McIlroy said. “That hole has sort of given me fits all week. I haven't really liked the look of it, and Michael stands up and hits this lovely little draw back into off the left wind, and you know, ball goes straight in the hole.”
McIlroy continued, “When it's your week, it's your week.” The shot:
A video captured by one of Block’s sons shows the scene at Arroyo Trabuco after the ace aired on CBS:
Block said it was the largest crowd he’s ever seen in O’Neill’s pub.
“It was crazy,” he said. “It’s busy a lot because it's a great spot and the food is great and the drinks are great. Armando serves a fantastic cocktail. But to see how busy it was and to see they actually had what looked like a watch party to me, was pretty darned cool. I can't wait to get back to them and celebrate with them.”
The party will wait after Block accepted a sponsor’s invite to this week’s Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial.
Viktor Hovland on finishing tied for second. “It sucks right now, but it is really cool to see that things are going the right direction. If I just keep taking care of my business and just keep working on what I've been doing, I think we're going to get one of these soon.”
Hovland on playing with Koepka. “It's not easy going toe-to-toe with a guy like
that. He is not going to give you anything, and I didn’t really feel like I gave him anything either until 16.”
Scottie Scheffler on his Sunday 65. “I gave the guys on top of the leaderboard something to think about, and I kind of made a little bit much a move, but Brooks just played some fantastic golf this week. He played too good this weekend for me to catch up to him.”
Scheffler on returning to World No. 1 with his runner-up finish. “That's great. I mean, it's just an algorithm. It's nice, but I really don't care (laughing).”
Rory McIlroy on the “unbelievable” experience of playing with Michael Block. “We both got amazing support, but you know, he got unbelievable support, understandably so, being in this position as a club pro and playing so well and competing into the latter stages of a major championship. It was really impressive. It was nice to go out there and share the course with him for 18 holes.”
Michael Block on his big week. “I'm like the new John Daly, but I don't have a mullet, and I'm not quite as big as him yet. I'm just a club professional; right? I work. I have fun. I have a couple boys that I love to play golf with. I have a great wife. I have great friends. I live the normal life. I love being at home. I love sitting in my backyard. My best friend in the world is my dog. I can't wait to see him. I miss him so much it's ridiculous, my little black lab.”
Block on his finish to secure a top 15 finish and return trip to the PGA. “I had no idea where I was. And if you put me at 120 yards out on 17, hitting my third shot, and if you put me on 18 hitting my third shot from that 40 yards, sidehill lie out of the rough to a tight pin on 18, and you're telling me I'm going to get up-and-down on both of those to make next year's PGA Championship, there's no way in God's green earth I would have done it.”
Cam Smith on whether the play of LIV golfers says anything about the upstart league. “I don't think so. I gave up on that narrative about six months ago, I think (laughing). I think there's been a few guys that have been trying to kick it along a little bit. We're still out there. We haven't forgot how to play golf. We're all great golfers out there, and we know what we can do, and I think that's what we're trying to do.”
Jordan Spieth (T29) on returning from a wrist injury. “It’s what I love to do and I wouldn’t trade my job for anything but after a taxing week like this sometimes your brain is a little fried and you get a lot of people screaming at you every time you walk in between (holes) and you just kind of hear some ringing in your ears, so, for me, I go back and take a cold plunge, take a day off and I’m ready to go.”
Phil Mickelson on cooperating with the Justice Department’s anti-trust investigators looking into the PGA Tour. “I guess it’s because I know some things that others don’t. I just want to make sure everybody’s held accountable.”
Mickelson on Koepka playing the Ryder Cup now that he’s won the PGA and ranks second in points. “I don't see the benefit of the Ryder Cup to change from what it has historically been, which is the U.S. -- well, it used to be Great Britain and Ireland -- versus Europe. I don't see the benefit of changing that. I don't see how it's any concern of the PGA of America what tour we play. That's just my opinion.”