Emotional Koepka a Major Force Once Again
The embrace between player and caddie at the conclusion of a golf tournament can tell you a lot of things. The hug between Koepka and Ricky Elliot was pure joy. Emotional release. Complete relief. The duo began working together 10 years ago at this golf course and this major.
Koepka returned to the top of golf’s major mountain Sunday at Oak Hill Country Club, winning the Wanamaker Trophy for the third time.
He’s all the way back.
“This one is definitely special,” Koepka said. “I think this one is probably the most meaningful of them all with everything that's gone on, all the crazy stuff over the last few years.”
Koepka, who won the 105th PGA Championship by two shots over Scottie Scheffler and Viktor Hovland, is now in rarified company. While he let a glorious chance to win the Masters pass him by six weeks ago, he now joins Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus as the only three-time winners of the PGA Championship in the modern era. Only 20 men in golf history have won five majors or more, and Koepka is one of them.
“I’m not sure I even dreamed of it as a kid, winning this many,” Koepka said.
The golf world was allowed into Koepka’s world with the release of the Netflix documentary, “Full Swing.” In it we got a glimpse of how tough Koepka took major-championship losses and what these big four events truly meant to him. It hurt more because he knew he could perform well on these big stages.
He looked emotional coming up the 18th green Sunday with the win essentially guaranteed. There was some salty language in his reply to why that was, but for all the hurdles he’s had to get over, this win, at this time, meant a lot.
“No one knows all the pain. There’s a lot of times where I just couldn’t even bend my knee,” Koepka said. “[This win] felt good. It felt really good.”
Koepka got off to as good a start as you could ask for, making birdies on Nos. 2-4, knocking his approaches to 4 feet, 4 feet, and 8 feet. He was dialed in.
He made back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 6 and 7 before making the turn at 1 under. He added four birdies on the back nine, however, and even with a bogey on No. 17 – after Viktor Hovland made a double bogey on the par-4 16th – Koepka had one hand on the Wanamaker Trophy. Despite a birdie by Hovland on No. 18, Koepka did everything he needed to do to put both hands on it by the time Sunday evening rolled on in Rochester.
Koepka has had plenty of success at majors – in his last 22 major-championship starts, Koepka has five wins, four runners-up and 14 top-10 finishes – but he said he learned more from the weeks when he didn’t win.
“I think failure is how you learn,” he said. “You get better from it. You realize what mistakes you've made. Each time I've kind of made an adjustment. It's more mentality than it is anything. It's not really golf swing or anything like that. You're going to play how you play, but mentally you can kind of figure things out, and I'm always trying to get better.
“Really, I think the big key is just being open and honest with yourself, and if you can do that, you'll be miles ahead of everybody else.”
A few years ago, Koepka said, he was “just lost.” Didn’t know where any golf swing was going, he admitted, didn’t know if he was physically capable of doing anything. Retirement even crossed his mind.
“If I couldn’t play the way I wanted to play, then I was definitely going to give it up,” Koepka explained.
But here we are. He didn’t give it up. Koepka is a major winner again and is showing no signs of slowing down. Healthy. Happy. About to be a father for the first time.
Watch out golf world.
“I’m back to having a chance pretty much every time I tee it up,” Koepka said. “So, I'm very pleased with the way I'm playing. I like the way I've worked with everybody. It's been a lot of fun.”
Koepka is set to have fun with his group of pals who were with him at Oak Hill. His coaches. The team. He’s excited to watch the Florida Panthers try to take a 3-0 series lead Monday night in the NFL Playoffs back home in Jupiter.
There were a lot of hugs to dole out late Sunday after that first one to his caddie.
But there’s just one thing Koepka is truly happy to embrace again – the Wanamaker Trophy.