Brooks Koepka was determined to overcome his failure to finish the job at Augusta and nailed the major victory at the PGA Championship at Oakhill Country Club. Koepka was confident and completely focused on task to overcome weather, elements, competitors and distractions caused by his LIV affiliation.
Cheering against Koepka and fellow LIV players such as Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Cameron Smith seems ludicrous to me. There is a difference between supporting players and supporting the LIV Tour. These players are among the best in the world and they made a choice to support a new tour for substantial compensation. At the end of the day, they are still great golfers. During the tournament there was occasional booing of the LIV players, which demonstrates boorish behavior reminding me of the hooligans of professional British soccer. The PGA Tour maintains its status as the preeminent showcase for the professional golf tour and appears to be gaining additional momentum over the competitive tour. In general, golf fans will not embrace LIV in sufficient numbers primarily due to the financing source for the tour and its combative leader, Greg Norman. Last week, Dustin Johnson and Cameron Smith were engaged in an exciting playoff in an LIV event. The network sponsoring the LIV Tour (CW–Country/Western??) cut off tournament coverage to return to regularly scheduled programming (Divorce Court?) and didn’t televise the playoff. The LIV players may not admit or complain about it, but they are unhappy with their situation. They are financially secure but they cannot earn World Ranking points and their public reputations have been adversely impacted. In general, golf fans have no idea how Dustin Johnson or Cameron Smith are performing as players. These players are getting the opportunity to showcase their great skills at the majors since they are past winners and therefore eligible to participate in these majors for the next few years. Smith shot 65 in the final round and vaulted to finish ninth in the event. DeChambeau was in contention for the entire week finishing tied for fourth. DeChambeau is recovering from injuries and regaining the confidence in his swing and reducing the size of his bulked up frame. It was good to see him in contention.
Koepka opened the tournament with a two over 72 and proceeded to play lights out from there grabbing the tournament lead in a rain soaked Oakhill on Saturday in the third round. Three rounds of 66,66 and 67 sealed the deal and lapped the field.
There were a number of subplots in the tournament including a number of players combined with the adverse element of driving rain and a difficult course setup. Jon Rahm came into the tournament riding his no. 1 position but this wasn’t Rahm’s week. He was annoyed with Oakhill and his putting did not respond as it has in the 2023 season. Rory McIlroy seemed poised to go after another PGA Championship victory, played well but couldn’t generate the momentum to contend. Koepka’s major competition came from Scottie Scheffler and Victor Hovland. It looked like Scheffler was going to persevere and take the championship but a series of errant shots in the third round produced a three over par round. Scheffler plays within himself with a steely determination and dispassionate inner strength that doesn’t rattle under pressure. He responded with a back nine of 31 on Sunday closing with a birdie on the difficult 18th hole to finish second. Victor Hovland is still learning how to compete and break through the field in a major championship. Hovland is an aggressive player with a powerful golf swing, but he doesn’t seem to have the know how to close the deal and come up with the right shot at the right time. He battled Koepka on Sunday hole by hole as Koepka would not give in to the pressure exerted by Hovland. On the 16th hole on Sunday, Hovland found the fairway bunker on the right side of the hole and had about 140 yards to the green. Hovland then lashed at a 9 iron in the bunker and the ball embedded at the bottom of the bunker-an unplayable lie-penalty stroke-indifferent chip and two putt resulted in a double bogey six while Koepka was calmly dropping a birdie putt–a one shot lead over Hovland became 4 shots with 2 holes to play. Hovland’s unforced error was his end of the tournament. Koepka then pushed his drive on 17 into the right rough–unruffled, he chipped back to the fairway and proceeded to make bogey while Schffler was making his birdie on 18. Koepka’s four shot lead was back down to 2 shots with the dangerous 18th hole to play. Koepka calmly hit a terrific drive on 18 right down the middle and nonchalantly knocked his approach shot to 15 feet for the win. Koepka’s win was a testament to his comeback from injury riddled prior seasons where he almost considered quitting professional golf. He has ascended into some very rarified air with his 5th major victory.
The tournament featured the spectacular play of Mike Block, the Club Professional from Southern California. Mike not only made the cut but also finished in 15th place at 1 over par and is only one of two club professionals to be within the top 20 in a major in the last 20 years. He also added tremendous excitement to the crowd and national TV audience with a hole in hole on the 7th hole. He played his final round with Rory McIlroy, who was very supportive throughout the round. Mike became a national hero on Sunday with his finish and will now be able to tee it up with the pros again this week in Texas. His club professional job will have to wait as well as his students who pay him $125/hr. for instructional services at this club. His paycheck at Oakhill was $288,000 (a lot of lessons).
Oakhill was a great venue for the tournament. Oakhill has hosted US Opens and other USGA championship events in past years and underwent some renovation and change in preparation for this event. It has been unusual for a PGA Championship to feature rough and narrow fairways so the tournament had the feel of the US Open. Only 11 players broke par in the tournament as cold and rainy conditions impacted play especially in the 3rd round, where the rain teemed down all day. Oakhill absorbed significant rain but the greens did not take on water and there were no puddles in the bunkers that would have suspended play. Koepka’s 66 in the third round was the lowest round in the field and rode him into the lead that he would never relinquish.