The victory celebrations for Brooks Koepka at the US PGA Championship echoed from Rochester to Riyadh. For the American, a fifth major victory positions him in the pantheon of golf’s greats alongside Byron Nelson and Peter Thomson. He is only the twentieth golfer in history to achieve this milestone. Arnold Palmer, who won seven times, is visible. Koepka’s comeback from the darkest days of his career, when an injury threatened to end it, is complete.
On the final green, he displayed an uncharacteristically emotional demeanor, reflecting his prior physical distress. Koepka stated, “This is likely the finest of them all due to the amount of effort that went into it. This one is unquestionably unique.”
There is confirmation that the much-maligned LIV format has competitive merit. Greg Norman may be able to persuade his Saudi Arabian paymasters that the LIV initiative merits increased time and resources now that one of its players has defeated what is widely considered to be the strongest field in golf. Norman must be pleased with Koepka’s accomplishments. Not so for Jay Monahan and the PGA Tour; with Open champion Cameron Smith now also a LIV golfer, the traditional ecosystem is missing two of the four current major champions.
US Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson cannot disregard this particular LIV rebel or the conversation surrounding him.
Team Europe would have reason to dread Koepka in September at Rome. His 67 resulted in a triumph margin of two strokes over Viktor Hovland and Scottie Scheffler, who tied at nine under par. This tournament’s champion opened with a two-over-par 72.
The mission of Koepka was to prevent Oak Hill from becoming Choke Hill. In light of his final-round collapse at last month’s Masters, he must have felt the additional strain. With three birdies on the first four holes, he established a three-shot advantage over Hovland.
When it appeared that a procession would occur, the golfing gods had other plans. Koepka lost his ball on the sixth fairway, resulting in the first of two consecutive bogeys. Hovland drew his playing companion even for one hole, with the Norwegian also dropping a shot on the seventh. Koepka carded birdies at the tenth and twelfth holes between a relatively advantageous bogie at the short eleventh. The Floridian’s tee shot became lodged in a greenside hazard. Scheffler entered the scene with three eagles between the 10th and 14th holes. Koepka holed out impressively for par on the thirteenth to keep Hovland and Scheffler one stroke behind.
Hovland’s birdie on the 14th hole tied him with Koepka, but only for a few seconds. Nine under played eight under, and Scheffler ran out of holes after 15 when he was minus six. Hovland was to experience calamity on the 16th. The 25-year-old’s second shot, after locating a fairway bunker from the tee, was a direct hit into the face of the sand trap. Hovland, visibly agitated, was to make a double par six. Koepka’s birdie three gave him a four-stroke lead at 10 under; the game was over.
Scheffler’s birdie on the final hole, along with his 31-stroke front nine, earned him the runner-up position until Hovland also finished with a three.
Given how long Hovland and Koepka had been trading strikes, this seemed like an accurate depiction of the situation. At three under, Kurt Kitayama, Bryson DeChambeau, and Cam Davis tied for fourth place.
When Rory McIlroy hit his approach shot to within two feet of the cup on the first hole, expectations were raised that the Northern Irishman could make a run at the leaders. He began the day five strokes behind Koepka. McIlroy’s second-, fourth-, and seventh-hole bogeys negated his excellent play on the front nine. This half’s score of 35 par was never likely to be sufficient.
McIlroy gained strokes on the 10th and 13th to move into the top five, but a bogey on the 15th relegated him to a tie for seventh place. As he continues to struggle with technical flaws, he acknowledged afterward that he had low expectations for the US PGA. He must alter this situation before the US Open next month.
While triumph belonged to Koepka, Michael Block provided the day’s most endearing moment. The club pro, who is classified outside of the top 3,000 golfers in the world, defied all logic by not only making the cut but also maintaining a position on the leaderboard. Block was accompanied on Sunday by McIlroy.
At the par-three 15th, Block’s tee shot crashed directly into the hole, eliciting ecstatic reactions from spectators. McIlroy was visibly pleased for his playing companion, whose disbelief was also evident. Those who witnessed Block’s flawless seven iron from 151 yards will never forget it. “It was an incredible golf shot,” McIlroy said.
McIlroy and Block embraced once again on the 72nd green. Block’s 15th-place tie-for-finish will net him close to $300,000 and undoubtedly more opportunities in competitive environments.
Due to Koepka’s LIV status, the $3.15 million (£2.5 million) cash reward for winning at Oak Hill is essentially irrelevant to him. Significantly more evidence has demonstrated to all skeptics that he remains a formidable force.