- The 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive will have two lasting images: Tiger Woods nearly winning the tournament, and Brooks Koepka withstanding that intimidating force to hold on for victory.
The lasting images from the 2018 PGA Championship will be confined to two very muscular men. If it feels like Tiger is hogging all the headlines now despite finishing second—albeit in historic, electric and unbelievable fashion—to Brooks Koepka, it’s only going to get more lopsided as time wears on. Bellerive will be forever linked with Woods’s Sunday 64, a round of golf that made those of us old enough to remember the Tiger Woods videogame feel like we were greeting a long-lost friend.
To his deserved and, as he’ll tell you, sometimes insufficient credit, Koepka never budged in the face of golf’s most intimidating force. When Tiger’s making a run and you’re the one in the lead, you’re no longer just competing against the golf course and your fellow competitors; you’re also competing against the will of an entire golf community. Unfazed, Koepka just kept going about his business, which is pistol-whipping drives 340 yards down the middle and then displaying an entirely different, much gentler golf swing when the situation calls for it. A true, winning blend of power and finesse.
In the end, the bulky Floridian secured a two-shot victory for his second major of the year and third in 14 months.
So yes, these are the two things we’ll remember: How Tiger almost did it, and how Brooks never flinched. But the tournament featured 140+ players and was contested over four days. There are so many little things, so many beautiful little anecdotes and moments that fade with the passage of time. For posterity’s sake, here are 18 parting thoughts from the 2018 PGA Championship.
• Brooks Koepka is a fantastic player, and his game is basically tailor-made for major championships. Winning three in 14 months and three before 29 is nothing short of historic, but let’s cool off with these “he’s the best player in the world” and “he’s the favorite at every future major so long as he’s healthy” takes. Though rare, the type of run Koepka’s been on is not unheard of. After Rory McIlroy’s 2014 we thought he’d win 10 majors by 30. When Jordan Spieth finished inside the top five in ever major in 2015 and won the Masters and U.S. Open, we’d finally found the heir apparent to Tiger Woods. Countless times golf media has tipped Dustin Johnson as ready to go on a dominant tear and pile up the majors in his 30s like Phil Mickelson did.
We have a quick trigger for anointing the next Woods. The simple fact is there may never be another player who dominates for as long as Tiger did.
Koepka has won three majors, which is likely good enough for the Hall of Fame already. He could very well win three or four more before his career is over. But he also might not win any more. Time will tell. Golf is a fickle game, and players fade and players rise and then players fade again. Koepka has all the raw tools and talent to sustain this level of play, but so did McIlroy and Spieth and Johnson, and they’ve won a combined one major since the 2016 U.S. Open.
• Every so-called expert or pundit will tell you their own version of what Tiger did better than anyone else in his prime. He made every eight-footer when he needed to. He was the best with his short irons and wedges. I’ll go a little broader: he was the greatest at shooting a score that you thought was distinctly impossible with the way he was hitting the ball. In golf, there’s a scoring gene. It’s what separates the club studs who can hit it 310 yards and straight with PGA Tour professionals. Tiger has this gene to a comical extent, and Sunday at Bellerive was the perfect example.
Hitting zero fairways and shooting 32 for 9 holes is impressive at your local muni. On a major championship golf course with dense rough, with Sunday pins and all the pressure in the world, it’s obscene. In his heyday, Tiger coupled an ability to save par from nowhere with ruthlessly aggressive iron shots when in position to attack. He did it perfectly on Sunday, and that’s how you shoot 64 with your C swing. It was the clearest sign that he’s fully back to tournament shape, and that’s frightening news for his competitors.
• It’s fantastic to see Adam Scott playing well again, because it was truly puzzling how a player with a swing that perfect could ever fall outside the world top 50. Had Scott won on Sunday, it would have been a fitting tribute to his fellow Aussie Jarrod Lyle, who died earlier in the week. With all that being said, I’m not sure how I would have felt about a player winning a major, in 2018, with a long putter gripped super duper close to his chest. I’m not saying he’s anchoring it, but I don’t think the anchoring ban was enacted with players putting like Scott in mind.
• So this has become a big-time thing during major championship weeks: the course becoming the main story. Countless stories were written about how “baked out” Carnoustie was, and how soft and scoreable Bellerive is. At the U.S. Open, the USGA “lost” the course on Saturday and people were really, really mad. The issues at Shinnecock were really over-blown. Carnoustie was firm but fair. And sure, Bellerive wasn’t the most difficult venue in the world, but it led to a star-studded leaderboard and produced one of the most memorable Sundays you’ll ever see. The courses are just fine.
• One of the main reasons scoring was so low at Bellerive was the massive crowds, and not because their words of encouragement spurred the players to greatness. It’s because they trample down the rough, which was the chief defense of the golf course, so much so that it often didn’t play like rough at all. Take Tiger’s drive on the ninth hole on Sunday, a smother-hook with an iron that finished on the cart path left of the fairway. If the rough had been how it was on Monday, no chance Tiger even attempts the 9-iron rope-hook that set up a birdie. He’d have to hack it out and hope for the best. There’s no remedy for this—it happens basically every week—and I don’t really have a problem with it. Just an observation.
• One more thing about the courses: Bellerive was basically the polar opposite of Carnoustie. Bellerive is a classic, parkland, American course, with tree-lined fairways and thick rough and water hazards and big bunkers and soft fairways. Carnoustie is an ancient links with rock-hard fairways, fescue instead of rough, no trees that come into play, and no water. That we were treated to two fantastic major championships played on two wildly different courses 5,000 miles away from each other within the span of two weeks speaks to the beautiful diversity of this game.
• Sergio Garcia missed the cut by a shot, and the 2017 Masters champion has now missed the cut in his last five majors and three of his last four starts. European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn has a heck of a decision on his hands—surely, Garcia does not deserve a captain’s pick based on recent form. But he’s a Ryder Cup legend and an integral team presence. Hopefully for Bjorn’s sake, Garcia has a big week really soon, otherwise he’s going to have to make a difficult call.
• To a lesser extent, so is Jim Furyk with regards to Mickelson. Lefty finished 10th in the points standings and has had a solid year as a whole, but he’s trending in the wrong direction and also missed the cut at Bellerive. Phil’s still overwhelmingly likely to receive a captain’s pick, but there are going to be many who disagree with the selection when someone like Xander Schauffele or Tony Finau is left off the squad.
• A nod to Webb Simpson, who played his way onto the U.S. Ryder Cup team by taking the eighth and final auto-qualifying spot. He’s not the most popular player on Tour, and his steady, risk-averse game wouldn’t seem to be the best fit for match play. Plus he’s not exactly a fiery personality. But Simpson has had a small resurgence this year and finished eighth fair and square, whether you (and Furyk) like it or not.
• Rory McIlroy should consult someone about his wedge game, because it is in shambles. He continues to be probably the best driver in the world, and he routinely leaves himself flip wedges to 450-plus yard par 4. Then he routinely flies the green and struggles to make par. His distance control with his scoring clubs is atrocious for a player of his caliber and pedigree, and it must be addressed if he is to return to the world-beater we all know he should be.
• This is an uncommon position to take, but I’m going to miss having the PGA in August. I’ve just come to associate the PGA with being last, with being played in sweltering heat at a Midwest track. And selfishly, I’m not sure how I’m going to cope with an even longer gap between the final major of the season, which will now be the Open in July, and the following year’s Masters. Nine months is a really long time without major championship golf.
• All three players who won a major this season have two things in common. Well, two things in common besides winning a major this season, that is: they all don’t have club sponsorship deals, allowing them to play whatever salad of sticks they so please, and they all wear Nike clothes. Two takeaways here. First, it looks like Nike’s decision to get out of the hard goods game and re-invest those dollars in outfitting the world’s best has paid off. Second, perhaps being able to actually choose your clubs is worth more than the sponsorship dollars you’d get from a specific manufacturer. I’d be surprised if we don’t see more players opt for clothing-only deals.
• Another major where Rickie Fowler put himself in good position heading into the weekend then faded from contention. At the U.S. Open, his undoing was a wild third-round 84. At Bellerive, it was failing to make birdies while everyone around him was doing exactly that. Fowler will turn 30 before Augusta next year, and he still has just four PGA Tour wins and zero majors to his name. Certainly not time to even consider panicking just yet, but he’s got too much talent and has put himself in position too many times to have such a relatively barren trophy mantle.
• A special note of commiseration to the other Tommy Fleetwood, the Florida teaching pro who received the world No. 11’s $154,000 Open Championship winnings by mistake. He was as good a sport as you could possibly be about it, telling Golf.com after the mistake was corrected, “I’m broke again.” Oh, to be a world-class player and have that type of money direct deposited into your account.
• Another club professional worthy of commendation is Ben Kern, the lone club pro of the 20 who played to make the cut. Kern’s floppy hat, goatee and sleeve of tattoos made him a darling of fans in attendance and watching on TV. His play was a reminder of just how many incredible golfers there are out there. Kern isn’t even a mini-tour player (though he was for a time after college) and was not even a little out of place competing against the world’s best. Just goes to show you how difficult it is to make it as a touring professional, if a player of that caliber has decided it’s in his best interest to work at a golf course.
• I wasn’t at Bellerive this week, so I watched the entirety of the event via streaming and TNT/CBS’ television coverage. Two thoughts, one negative and one positive. We’ll start with the negative: not having live action on TV until 2 p.m. on Thursday and Friday is bad. If you’re not a player worthy of a “marquee” group, one of your first two rounds at a major is guaranteed not to be broadcast live. Even if a player is threatening to shoot 62, like Kevin Kisner and Charl Schwartzel and Brooks Koepka were on Friday, there’s simply no way to watch it. That’s wild in 2018. Now, the positive: Trevor Immelman is an absolute star in the booth. He has so much joy in his voice. He has a silky South African accent. He is incredibly knowledgeable about the history of the game, course design and this generation of players, whom he competed against not long ago. Johnny Miller’s contract with NBC is over after this season. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
• It’s not often that golf and politics collide, though it’s been happening more than ever with the current golf-loving president, but that’s exactly what we saw when hackers briefly took control of PGA servers. As far as servers to take control of, the PGA of America has to rank near the bottom in terms of excitement. What privileged information were they after, apart from the ransom? The phone number of your local teaching professional?
• Golfers’ lack of creativity when coming up with nicknames is astounding. It seems the standard practice is simply to add “y” to the end of someone’s name. Adam Scott is Scotty. Brooks Koepka is Brooksy. Golf Channel reporter Steve Sands is…wait for it…Sandsy. It’s oddly charming in a way I can’t put my finger on.
Only 234 days until Augusta.