Posted by: Mike Cornelius | August 13, 2018

Rodney Dangerfield Wins The PGA Championship

Now it’s time for the bonus round. Quickly, who’s the last golfer to win three major championships in six tries? Oh no, sorry to you and you and you and, well, all the very many of you who answered Tiger Woods. That is incorrect and actually not even close, so you’re out of the game.  Unfortunately we’ve run out of steak knives, but here’s a nice bag of tees as a lovely parting gift.

The correct answer of course is 28-year-old Brooks Koepka, who won the PGA Championship Sunday at a Bellerive Country Club layout softened by summer thunderstorms. The win followed Koepka’s victory at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock in June, where he defended the title he won last year at Erin Hills. Koepka’s closing 4-under par 66 was his fourth straight sub-70 circuit of the Robert Trent Jones course, good enough for a win by two over Woods and three clear of playing partner Adam Scott, who started the day two adrift and hung with Koepka until the final two holes.

From his initial major breakthrough in June of last year at that eccentric Wisconsin layout through raising the Wanamaker Trophy at the classic parkland course in Missouri on Sunday, seven men’s majors have been played, but Koepka missed the Masters in April while recovering from surgery to repair a torn tendon in his left wrist. So he is three for six, supplanting as the correct answer to the trivia question not Woods, but Padraig Harrington, whose name was etched on the Claret Jug at the end of both the 2007 and 2008 Open Championships before he won the Wanamaker at the 2008 PGA on this same course.

Given the significance of Koepka’s accomplishment, surely he was followed by massive galleries during his final round even as media members with access inside the ropes jostled with each other for the best position for a photograph or to chronicle his march to glory. Actually, not so much. The throngs of fans packed ten deep along Bellerive’s fairways and beside its greens were always two groups ahead of the final pairing of Koepka and Scott, as were most of those with press credentials. That was where Woods and Gary Woodland were located. Less there be any doubt, even though he grew up in relatively nearby Topeka, Kansas, and led the tournament after both the first and second rounds, Woodland was not the attraction for the hordes.

It is hard to fault the fans. He hasn’t won a PGA Tour event in five years and his last major title is now a decade old, but Woods remains far and away the most popular golfer in the world. More important, on Sunday at Bellerive following Woods was not an exercise in nostalgia or wishful thinking. After opening with an even par round of 70, he posted matching 66s in the second and third rounds to move into a tie for sixth place, four behind Koepka with eighteen holes to play. Then as he had all week, Woods struck early and often on the front nine, going out in 3-under 32, closing to within a stroke of the lead at one point.

For the week Woods played the front side of the course in 13-under par, though his fine number on Sunday was achieved in unusual fashion. He failed to hit a single fairway but scrambled brilliantly. The CBS Sports commentators marveled at his putting, but his real savior was his chipping and iron play that left Woods with short putts on almost every hole. Then on the back nine, which Woods had played in 2-over par through the first three rounds, the level of his focus became more apparent. Woods started to hit a few fairways and added four more birdies coming home for another 32, closing with his best round in a major in years, a 6-under par 64.

But his hopes of catching Koepka were done in by three things. First was Woods’s play on the 14th hole. His iron off the tee faded well right into deep rough, from which a vicious swing couldn’t advance the ball all the way to the green. From the collar fifteen short of the putting surface his chip was not up to the standards he had set during his front nine scrambling. Instead it stopped ten feet short and his putt for par lipped out of the cup. Second was his play on the par-5 17th hole, where birdie was the expected score. Instead Woods again drove wildly to the right, his ball plugging in mud inside the red hazard line of a creek. Woods was able to advance the ball back into the fairway, but his third from long range found a greenside bunker, and he had to settle for par.

Had Woods hit those two tee shots straight, the story of this PGA Championship might have been very different. Or it might well have still been the same, for the third reason Woods came up short was beyond his control, and that was the play of Brooks Koepka. He began with a birdie, staggered briefly with back-to-back bogeys on the 4th and 5th holes, but then made three straight birdies to finish the front nine, going out in 33 and regaining control of the tournament. Koepka’s iron play was as fine as anyone’s, including Woods, and except for a couple of short misses on would-be birdies early on the back nine, his putting was rock solid. Perhaps most important, he was able to overwhelm the Bellerive layout with powerful tee shots that went running down fairways well past the usual landing areas.

Koepka ended his string of pars with a ten-foot birdie putt on the 15th, then laced a laser-like 4-iron on the long par-3 16th, the ball rolling to a stop six feet from the cup. When the birdie putt fell in Koepka’s lead was two and both Woods and Scott were left with only the vain hope that the leader might somehow stumble.

Earlier in the round, the CBS crew noted the lack of fans and media following the final pairing and suggested that Koepka used that as a motivating force. If true, he wouldn’t be the first athlete to do so. Like the old comedian complaining that he “don’t get no respect,” being taken too lightly can, in the right circumstances, put a healthy chip on one’s shoulder.

By that standard Brooks Koepka has plenty of motivation. Aside from the lack of attention paid at Bellerive, he’s now number two in the world golf rankings, has those three majors in six tries, and is just the fifth golfer to win the U.S. Open and PGA in the same year. The three majors are as many as Jordan Spieth, just one less than Rory McIlroy, and more than Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Jason Day and Bubba Watson, all of whom have decidedly higher profiles than Koepka.

The ultimate irony on Sunday was that having pointed out the issue CBS then contributed to it. When it looked like Woods might win analyst Nick Faldo swooned, opining that a Woods victory would be the greatest comeback in the history of golf. Making such a claim about a game that has been played for nearly six hundred years is absurd on its face. But for Faldo, golf’s history apparently starts sometime after 1950. That’s when Ben Hogan, with both his legs wrapped in bandages to prevent swelling, won the U.S. Open at Merion just 16 months after a near fatal auto accident that left many doubting he would ever again walk, much less play golf. Then CBS showed the “Shot of the Day,” which wasn’t one made by Koepka, but the birdie putt Woods holed on the 18th hole, which had exactly zero impact on the outcome of this season’s last major. Maybe Brooks Koepka will take time to look at a rerun of Sunday’s coverage before he heads to Augusta National next April. That might be all the motivation he needs for number four.

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Responses

  1. Excellent. Chuck

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • Thanks Chuck. Based on the responses that one seems to have struck a chord with some golf fans.

      M-

      Michael Cornelius
      603.498.5527
      http://www.onsportsandlife.com

  2. Sounds like the CBS commentators can’t see the brooks for the woods. It’s a shame that the young man didn’t get his due respect, but he must have handled it with grace and sportsmanship anyway.
    Ω

    • He did indeed Allan. Koepka obviously has a ton of talent and seems to have very little interest in being a celebrity. I think he’ll be cashing a lot of winner’s checks for years to come.

      Thanks as always,
      M-

      • That’s nice to hear, Mike. Thanks.
        Ω


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