Brooks Is Still Here
By Kyle Koster
Brooks Koepka is now the first cyborg to win five major championships. Only fourteen humans in recorded history have captured more. The formidable Oak Hill rough, svelte fairways requiring precision and junk-balling greens that changed speeds dominated the field for the first two days of the tournament. Then a switch flipped and golf's coolest customer turned the heat up to overpower soggy conditions and every one of his competitors.
It may seem weird to paint a two-stroke victory as a runaway stroll to glory but that's what it felt like. This PGA Championship was a mulligatawny of obstacles to overcome. It required a cup of power. Three tablespoons of taking one's medicine. A dash of nervy wrists willing to bear the brunt of trauma inflicted by an errant tee shot and subsequent scramble. And, of course, the secret ingredient of mental unflappability. A desire to grind under the brightest of lights without breaking a sweat.
The dichotomy of Koepka is a mysterious concoction. He sports the classic first baseman's body and home run power that harkens back to the Bash Brothers era. Yet there's a quietness and stillness to his demeanor. It's as if he's Will Hunting asking, with his play, if the audience knows how goddamn easy this is for him. Except for that painful interlude where injuries and rushing back from them showed some glitches in his source code.
That's all in the rearview window now after three days of brilliance at last month's Masters and a Wanamaker trophy to hold the coldest, most satisfying liter of suds a person could ever hope to enjoy. He's all the way back into our lives even if his choice to live in de facto exile on the LIV circuit robs us of traditional weekend drama with the deepest fields and deepened rivalries.
However one judges the tenacity of fighting in golf's Civil War, Kopeka has managed to be the one who has emerged the cleanest on the other side. Winning is an unmatched balm that can cure all stings. Take the below with a grain of salt and full understanding that Woods' past decade-plus has been a battle against impossible challenges. It's still a lot to digest.
It might be tempting to reduce this all to the best athlete in a sport proving it time and time again when it matters most because isn't that what's supposed to happen? But that doesn't tell the full story of an icon who has quietly etched his name among the sport's all-time greats while admitting that his chosen profession can get a bit boring. Which opens him up to questions about his passion for the game.
Those questions, in my mind, have already been answered by his trophy case. In an era of unrivaled competition, one player has asserted himself above all the others. It's not the most universally beloved personality nor has it been the one who has made it the easiest to root for him. Critics wouldn't be wrong to point out he doesn't have the most alluring or convincing presentation.
Ultimately, though, that doesn't matter and it shouldn't matter. We love sports because they turn into a meritocracy when they start keeping score. Koepka is not the person who is going to crush the interview. He's the guy who is going to walk in and drop an unreal résumé on the desk and simply not care if he gets the job.
Undeterred, unblinking and unafraid, he conquered his last two great challenges. On No. 11, protecting a lead, he rocketed one into the face of a bunker. Without the histrionics or much delay, he simply swung hard and connected, averting the type of sand-based Dune hellscape that ultimately derailed his partner Viktor Hovland.
It could have all slipped away there. Perhaps we should have known it wouldn't. Jordan Spieth may get plaudits for his artistry and Jon Rahm for his force of will, but no one playing on any tour in the world can do what Koepka does best: take a mighty hack without blinking. To stare danger and failure in the face and laugh internally. He's this generation's version of the Terminator with many worlds left to conquer at the relatively young age of 33.
There's no reason to think five majors will be the end of it. Or six. Or possibly even seven. And if he gets them it will be on his terms. Look no further than his 72nd hole of the campaign, when he needed only a double-bogey to lock things up. There was no playing it safe as he took the big club out of the bag and sent it into oblivion and free from danger. There was no simply getting the approach on the meaty part of the green. Instead we got an exclamation of an approach to seal the deal.
A weekend of gritted teeth. A marathon of an ordeal. All of it ended in the place it should: with the most complete golfer holding the bauble, deepening bragging rights, and opening a conversation about just what makes them great.
Koepka wore 155 of his challengers down — well, perhaps 154 considering Michael Block ascended to places only seen in a sappy Dennis Quaid sports movie. It took four days but he solved the Rubik's Cube of a track in Rochester. He was the hammer delivering final nails in the coffin and doubts about whether he'd ever be able to build something that would endure forever ever again.