Date: August 14, 2018
Author: Mike Clayton

CLAYTON: Koepka’s path a wonderful irony

Credit where it's due.

Brooks Koepka this year achieved something only Curtis Strange and Ben Hogan have managed since the World War II and won consecutive US Opens.

Now, by sweeping up the Open and the PGA, he joins Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gene Sarazen and Tiger Woods as the only men to have won both in the same season.

Not bad company.

Much is being made of the fact he’s "only" won four times on "the tour", but that would be the US PGA Tour. Those who look outside the borders of the United States would know he won a big European tour event in Turkey in 2014 and the last two years he has won the Dunlop Phoenix, an old and significant season-ending tournament in Japan. The first one was close, but last November he cleared out from the rest by nine shots.

He is a bull of a man who creates great speed and drives so far he seems to have a wedge, or maybe a nine iron, into almost every par four green.

Tied with Adam Scott on the 15th tee, Koepka pitched just inside Scott and, after our man missed, the American knocked it in for a birdie. The 16th is a big long par three and a smashed four-iron finished up five feet away and the subsequent birdie all but snuffed out Scott’s hopes.

Adam did have an eight-footer across the hill at the 17th for a birdie, but he slid it under the hole and Koepka took a two-shot lead down the last, a 400m par four, which was duly dispatched with a drive – which barely ran five meters – and a wedge 15 feet behind the hole.

As much as the story of the day was Koepka, the drama, as it did for so much of the last day at Carnoustie, came from Woods.

He was barely better than atrocious from the tee on the front nine, missing all seven of the fairways he aimed at. But he did what Tiger Woods does and made it to the turn in three under par. Mostly he did it with his putter and the irons and it remains a mystery why one of the great iron players of all time plays with such a yippy driver.

It’s a pity because take him back to the way he drove the ball around the turn of the century (with a short, heavy steel shafted club and a reasonable sized head) and he would still be far and away the best player in the game. It’s a valid argument to suggest the long, light modern-day driver has done him nothing but harm, yet he persists with it, presumably being unwilling to give up yards to men such as Koepka and Dustin Johnson, the world No.1  who now has two fewer majors than the champion.

Either way, Tiger made another four birdies on the back nine, finishing up with eight for the day and a 64.  An awful drive right on the par-5 17th snuffed out any chance of making a birdie and in the end he was two behind despite a finishing birdie. Nor was it a finish blighted by the sort of mess he made of the 11th and 12th holes at Carnoustie and come Augusta in eight months, he will be one of the favourites.

The type of golf Bellerive asked for, and the weather dictated, was sadly far from interesting. At least not interesting if Carnoustie is the measuring stick.

There was no wind to speak of. The oppressive heat of American summers all but forces superintendents managing bent grass greens to overwater greens in order for the grass to survive and the resulting effect means players are hitting irons on to a surface the equivalent of a basket of wet washing.

It’s no one’s fault. It’s just that much of the USA has a lousy climate for mid-summer championship golf. Next year the PGA moves to May and Bethpage Park in New York. It might be nice weather, it likely won’t be hot, but it may be cold. Either way, it is a big man’s course and it would be no surprise if Koepka won again because you could barely think of a course in the United States more suited to his game.

The PGA Championship is a great and historic one. The brilliant match player Walter Hagen won it fives times, as did Nicklaus. Hogan won a couple of times when it was still match play and Woods won four times. Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson were a couple of the great ones who didn’t win it when it was the final leg of their personal grand slams.

But despite its history, it’s clearly the "fourth major", with only its history keeping it ahead of the Players Championship, a huge event on generally a better course than the ones chosen by the PGA of America – as opposed to the PGA Tour.

The owners of the championship can choose to be happy with their lot as the fourth of four, or they could be bold and, say, every Olympic year take it outside of the United States and use the status of the championship to "grow the game" around the world.

You could argue it’s a case of platitudes not being worth much unless you really act on them.

If the game were handing out major championships now, there isn’t a chance three of the four would be in the United States. It’s an accident of history just as Bobby Jones’ grand slam of the two Opens (British and US) and the two amateurs (same) was an accident of history.

It’s probably not going to happen because the PGA of America is just that; but they could completely reinvent their championship by taking it around the world.

Maybe financially it makes more money in the United States; but well sold and marketed and with a pick of the world’s best courses, generations from now the PGA Championship could easily be the equal of the other three major championships.

The irony, of course, is the champion honed his game by taking a path not many of his American contemporaries have trodden and travelled around the world learning his craft.

It certainly didn’t do him any harm.