2019 PGA Championship: The Growing Legacy of Brooks Koepka

Bethpage State Park’s Black Course comes with a warning. Before one enters the first tee box they come across an ominous sign, with an alarming WARNING across the top in red letters. Underneath, the black text states that:

“The Black Course Is An Extremely Difficult Course Which We Recommend Only For Highly Skilled Golfers”

Though it is a public course available to any and all players at a standard rate of $99, it also comes with the tax of mental and physical anguish.

Bethpage Black was closed to the public this past weekend to offer its highly regarded challenge to the best in the world for the 2019 PGA Championship.

This warning applied to them as well.

Bethpage Black doesn’t care if you are the world number one ranked player. The Black course doesn’t care if you’re about to win your fourth major championship in eight attempts. It doesn’t even waver if you shoot the course record in the opening round. It exists as a relentless challenge. It is one of the hardest courses ever conceived, and for eventual champion Brooks Koepka, the lesson was the same as it always is there. Survive.

It is hard to believe that Bethpage Black was once questioned as a major site. Hall of Famer Colin Montgomerie made harsh statements regarding a public course holding such an important event, before its inaugural showing at the 2002 U.S. Open. Monty would go on to finish in a tie for 73rd at 11 over par.

Bethpage entered this third time hosting a major having allowed a total of four players ever finish the championship under par.

It does all this with no water hazard anywhere on its eighteen holes of fury. It builds its difficulty by being a constant uphill trek, boasting deep bunkers, smoke and mirror green reading, and pin placement that can border on evil. You gain strokes by making par while others flail and fail.

It had been nearly a decade since it last hosted, and though the incredibly long players of today’s game proved to be more up to the task, with six total players finishing under par, the weekend proved hazardous for even the deepest drivers among them.

Sitting on a healthy lead after setting the course record with a seven-under 63 on Thursday, the muscle-bound phenomenon that is Brooks Koepka at a major championship entered the final round of play at 12 under par. As the challenge elevates, so does his game, even in the shadow of the steep hills of Long Island’s dastardly course.

The mark of a champion is to be able to win in more than one way. It’s not sustainable to always count on being a front-runner, or be able to stage an epic comeback time and time again. This victory would fall under the category of hanging on for dear life.

Fellow long hitter and former U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson put a charge into a sleepy gallery on this PGA Championship Sunday. Through the first three days, it seemed Koepka’s driving ability, course management, and steady putting would be enough to hold off the rest of the field who were struggling mightily in the May heat.

Then it all unraveled on his back nine, while Johnson began to crack the code for himself. Brooks would bogey four consecutive holes from the eleventh to the fourteenth, and each time he gave back a stroke, the gallery would erupt with the hope that some form of drama was about to unfold. Despite a three under par front nine, Johnson too would succumb to the difficult closing holes, giving back a stroke each on 16 and 17. Koepka would hold on and assert himself yet again as the best player in the world today. He found another way to win.

Four major wins in eight tries put him alongside names like Woods and Nicklaus, and he became the first player ever to hold back to back titles at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, but all of this success also deepens one of the mysteries about his game.

The recently turned 29-year-old only picked up his sixth ever PGA Tour victory. Regular winning on Tour is associated with the likes of the greatest of all time, an echelon he has entered into in the minds of many with this fourth major championship victory.

These primetime performances have made him the stuff of legend, even if he doesn’t regularly win in non-major events. The “ring” culture of 2019 sports has made everything short of the ultimate victory count for less. Brooks Koepka is perfect the modern champion, for this modern game.

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