BROOKS Koepka secured his place in golfing history with a two-shot triumph at the USPGA Championship, where he went wire-to-wire to become the first male player to win his first four Major titles in less than two years.
On a brutally challenging day at the famously difficult Bethpage Black Course, the 29-year-old was made to endure a nervy finish as the Long Island wind played havoc. Just as he looked to be cruising to a comfortable victory, Koepka bogeyed four holes in a row from the 11th and the seven-shot lead he began the day with was suddenly down to one.
But the pressure Dustin Johnson had been applying soon faded and back-to-back bogeys on the 16th and 17th meant he finished two shots back and relinquished his World No. 1 position to his friend Koepka, who signed for a final round 74 for a winning total of eight-under to retain the Wanamaker Trophy he claimed at Bellerive, in August.
A delighted Koepka said: “It’s been so much fun these last two years, it’s pretty close to two years. It’s incredible. I don’t think I even thought I was going to do it that fast. I don’t think anybody did, and to be standing here today with four majors, it’s mind-blowing.
“Today was definitely the most satisfying out of all of them for how stressful that round was; how stressful DJ made that. That was probably definitely – I know for a fact, that was the most excited I’ve ever been in my life ever there on 18.
“You knew today was going to be a tough day when it was blowing 15 or 20 on the range. I left the 10th hole feeling pretty good and left 14 not feeling so good. It can change very quickly. This golf course, it’s in the trees.
“Once it gets above the tree line, it can do whatever it wants. You’ve just got to hang tough, and it’s been so enjoyable. It was nice to finish on 18. I’m just glad we didn’t have to play anymore, that’s for sure.”
It means Koepka has successfully defended the US Open crown he won at Erin Hills in 2017 with victory at Shinnecock last June, and claimed back-to-back USPGA wins just eight months apart after the move in the schedule from August to May.
It also means the graduate from the European and Callenge Tours has won four out of the last Majors he has played – he missed the 2018 Masters recovering from a partially-torn wrist tendon, sustained late in 2017.
Koepka’s great friend and rival Johnson, who broke his duck at the 2016 US Open, but has not been able to add to his tally since, made a birdie at 15 to get to within one before also succumbing to the treacherous conditions at the municipal course which will stage the 2024 Ryder Cup.
Johnson said: “I knew today, starting off, that it was going to play tough. The wind was up. It was the most wind we’ve had all week. I knew if I could get off to a good start, which I did, that I could maybe put a little bit of pressure on him and I did that too.
“Just the last three holes is what got me. Walking off the 15th green, well, standing on 16th fairway, I’m at eight-under, and hit two really good shots there on 16, and I still don’t know how my ball went over the green there.
“Obviously not a spot where you can go, but I hit a great chip and a good putt, and you know, made a five. That one kind of took — you know, I knew I needed to birdie one of the last two when I did that.
“Brooks is a great player. I play a lot of golf with him. He’s one of my good buddies. You know, very happy for him, for his win. He’s one of the guys that I look for that I have to beat. He’s one of the best players out here, so he’s always somebody that I’ve got my eye on.”
Matt Wallace, meanwhile, secured his best finish at a Major Championship after battling to a final round 72 to finish in tied third alongside Jordan Spieth and Patrick Cantlay on two under. That moved the Hertfordshire-raised golfer to second in the Race to Dubai Rankings.
Wallace, from Moor Park GC, said: “That was crazy out there today, and there were so many cheers and roars going on that you kind of knew what was happening. DJ is making a run at it.
“But for me to try and stay in my own competition and try and finish third – in the end I wanted second, but I would have taken third. That’s not a bad week for me.
“I looked in the mirror this morning for some reason and I saw yesterday’s highlights, and I thought, I could see myself playing Ryder Cup here, and I want to be there now. I really do. And I feel like I can be there, whereas before maybe I didn’t feel like I could – and now I really feel like I can.”
Two-time USPGA Champion Rory McIlroy – who only just made the cut with a late flurry of four birdies in six holes on Friday – signed for a one-over par final round 71 to register his ninth top 10 in his last nine starts.
McIlroy said: “It’s so tough out there, I’ve moved up the leaderboard quite a lot, and my goal at the start of the day was to get into the top 10. I played well and good way to finish off the week.
“I stuck at it the whole way. It’s a 72-hole golf tournament and you’ve got to try till the very end and I did that this week. It wasn’t good enough to be up there in contention but I made improvements each and every day, which is a good thing.
“I try not to use the word should, I think it’s a bad word, especially in golf. It swings in roundabouts. I missed a few, but I was strokes gained putting, leader in that today stats-wise. So it swings in roundabouts. It all evens out at the end of the week, I feel like.”
He moved up 18 places to share eighth place with fellow Irishman Shane Lowry – who carded three sub-70 rounds at Bethpage after an opening 75 – and South African Erik van Rooyen, among others.
Lowry, the winner in Abu Dhabi in January, said: “I suppose if you had told me at the start of the week I was going to shoot three rounds under par around here – I’m obviously very happy with my week. You know, I was lying probably 140th or 130th after round one.
“I birdied 17 to make the cut. I felt like I played great. I felt like I was so in control the last three days. Thursday was a bit of a write-off but the last three days have just felt great.”
He added sneaking a top 10 was, “a great week and a great bit of confidence takeaway for me.”