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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Koepka gets another major win at PGA, LIV gets a major champion

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PITTSFORD, New York—Brooks Koepka now has five major championships, remarkable because he only started playing them on a regular basis 10 years ago. Slightly more than a third of his wins on top-level tours around the world have come with the biggest trophies in golf.

LIV Golf now has one major.

No one is keeping score that way, and Koepka didn’t sound terribly interested in measuring how much of an effect his Professional Golfers Association (PGA) Championship victory Sunday at Oak Hill would mean for the Saudi-funded rival league he joined last summer.

The chatter about guaranteed riches up front, 48-man fields with no cut and $20 million purses for the individual competition was that players would be too comfortable to work or perhaps too rich to care about what matters in golf.

Majors matter to Koepka, no matter where he’s playing. All he ever wanted was good health.

He never looked better at Oak Hill, a tough course that demanded exquisite golf. Not since Tiger Woods has anyone won so many majors in so few tries.

“I definitely think it helps LIV,” Koepka said after closing with a 3-under 67 for a two-shot victory over Scottie Scheffler and Viktor Hovland, two players he sees only four times a year. “But I’m more interested in my own self right now, to be honest with you.

“Yeah, it’s a huge thing for LIV,” he said. “But at the same time, I’m out here competing as an individual at the PGA Championship. I’m just happy to take this home for a third time.”

What a collection he has at home in south Florida, where his wife is expecting their first child. That’s three Wanamaker trophies — only Jack Nicklaus and Walter Hagen with five, and Woods with four — have won the PGA Championship more times.

There’s also those two US Open titles he won back-to-back.

He became the 20th player with five majors since they began in 1860, and Koepka didn’t need much thought to determine which of the five meant the most.

“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,” he said. “But it feels good to be back and to get No. 5.”

The crazy stuff is a lot to take in, starting with injuries that have kept him out of the Masters, another that kept him from the Presidents Cup in Australia. He hurt his right knee in 2021 and tried to pop it back in, only to shatter his knee cap in the process.”

Koepka was part of the Netflix series, “Full Swing,” and in one of the interviews he began to wonder if he could ever play the way he once did.

“I’m going to be honest with you, I can’t compete with these guys week in and week out,” he said.

He was a solid PGA Tour supporter until he wasn’t, as shocking a defection as there was after the US Open last year, not long after he got married with PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan in attendance.

Was it a reflection of where he was or where he thought he was going? Koepka won’t really say. But he was asked at the Masters if his decision to join LIV would have been more difficult had he been healthy.

“If I’m being completely honest, I think it would have been,” he said. “But I’m happy with the decision I made.”

But he is healthy now, and he is winning majors. Any question about whether he can compete with the best was answered over four days at Oak Hill, which had the strongest field of the year. Koepka beat them all, posting rounds of 66 on Friday and Saturday when the course was at its toughest and a 67 on Sunday to stay in front of Hovland and Scheffler.

He nearly was 2 for 2 in the majors. Koepka also had a 54-hole lead at the Masters, only to play not to lose — he never thought that way — and causing him a sleepless night, which he rarely has. All that did was make him determined not to do that again, and he made good at Oak Hill.

It still wasn’t easy. Koepka came out firing with three birdies in four holes, only to hit his worst drive on the most penalizing hole at No. 6, well to the right into the same swampy mess that nearly swallowed up Tom Kim in the opening round.

But he delivered in the clutch — a 10-foot birdie on the 12th, a smashed driver on the par-4 14th onto the fringe for a two-putt birdie to keep in front.

The drama ended quickly, and oddly. Koepka took the 54-hole lead Saturday when Corey Conners tried to hit 9-iron out of a fairway bunker on the 16th hole and it plugged into the lip. Hovland was one shot behind, in the same bunker, hit the same club, and got the same result.

Koepka mashed his shot out of the rough to 4 feet for birdie, Hovland made double bogey, and the rest of little more than a ceremonial walk to a trophy he covets.

“Brooks is a great player, and now he has five majors. I mean, that’s a hell of a record right there. It’s not easy going toe-to-toe with a guy like that,” Hovland said. “He is not going to give you anything, and I didn’t really feel like I gave him anything either until 16.”

Tributes poured in from Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter on Twitter — they’re part of the LIV Golf League — and from Justin Thomas, who’s not. LIV’s leader, Greg Norman, also weighed in.

Koepka was asked if he had called Norman.

“I called my wife, and that’s it. That’s the only person I’m really interested in talking to,” he said.

He has a baby on the way. He is bringing home the Wanamaker Trophy.

“This is probably the sweetest one of them all just because of all the hard work that had to go into this one,” he said. “It’s special.”

Image credits: AP

Read full article on BusinessMirror

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