BETHPAGE, N.Y. — Golf is easy, obviously. You hit a bunch of shots exactly as you wish, fire up a 63 that could have been a 61, and follow it up with a second-round 65 to win your fourth major championship in your last eight tries. What? Is something weird about this paragraph? Brooks Koepka says it’s fine, man.
Koepka leads the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black by seven strokes and 15 stretches of the imagination. He is 12 under par. Everybody else should get over it. He really is this good, really is this calm, and really will be around for a while. The only thing he has really struggled to do all week is count.
First he walked out of the scoring tent and said, “Where’s Ricky?” He was looking for caddie Ricky Elliott to confirm his score.
“Sixty-five?” Koepka asked, quietly, until Elliott heard him. “Sixty-five? Sixty-five? Sixty-five?”
Sixty-five. Yes. He always checks with Elliott, just to make sure. Koepka signed his card, went to the press center, and then he was asked about comparisons to one Tiger Woods.
Koepka said comparisons were premature because he is “11” majors behind Woods.
He is actually 12 majors behind Woods. He has three. Woods has 15. Koepka corrected himself. Maybe it was a simple mistake. Or maybe Koepka, like most people, quietly figures this one is over.
It is amazing that two years ago, Koepka had won zero major championships, and most fans figured he might stay on that number forever. He won the 2017 U.S. Open, then the 2018 U.S. Open, then the 2018 PGA, then nearly won this year’s Masters, and now … well, now he has a bigger two-round major-championship lead than Woods or Jack Nicklaus ever had.
It’s not actually over. We know that. In the next two days, Koepka could come down with a stomach virus, get stung by bees on both eyelids, or break his wrist juggling major-championship trophies. But damn, it sure seems over, and not just because of the seven-stroke lead. It’s because he is Brooks Koepka.
Koepka is not Tiger Woods. But he is doing things only a few golfers in history have done, and one of them is this: He just played two rounds at a major championship with Woods, expected to beat him, and did. You might remember a time when players walked on to the course with Woods and melted down; by the back nine all you saw was a puddle with an over-logoed shirt and hat in it.
Koepka said the first time he played with Woods at a major, in 2013, he watched him for the first nine holes. He doesn’t do that anymore. He said Friday that he couldn’t remember a single shot that Woods or Francesco Molinari hit. He paid attention in the moment—on the 13th tee, Koepka pointed left when Woods pulled his drive, to warn the fans—but he said “it doesn’t register.” He just goes back to his business.
Koepka said he “leaked a few shots right” Friday, but the only leaking I saw him do was on 13, when he waited for Francesco Molinari to use the contestants’ restroom. (Apparently Molinari had honors.) Koepka then walked to his ball, which he had hit 311 yards down the center of the fairway, because, as we mentioned, golf is easy. Then Koepka had to wait again: for Woods to exit a bunker, for Molinari to lay up with a fairway wood, for the group in front of him to finish putting, and for somebody, anybody, to say he can’t win this thing. Nobody did.
Koepka stood over his ball, and hit a shot that would have been high-risk if golf were hard, which it obviously isn’t: a fairway wood, 297 yards, right on the pin. It settled 30 feet past the hole. He missed the eagle putt, which annoyed him slightly. Then he made birdie.
Koepka has the most complete game and clearest mind in the sport right now. People think he is dumb or boring. He is neither. He is very smart and really good at keeping the game as simple as it should be, but no simpler.
On Thursday, Koepka chatted with former Mets third baseman David Wright, and Wright kept talking about golf and Koepka, who has a baseball background, wanted to talk baseball. Wright apparently told Koepka the key to winning championships in New York, because I did not see Koepka anywhere near the Wilpon family.
Koepka says he wants to be “conservatively aggressive,” which is his way of saying he will fire at pins when it’s smart but he knows when it isn’t. This is what Woods used to do. He was never the most aggressive player in golf. He was just best at knowing when to be the most aggressive.
So what happens now? Jordan Spieth is tied for second, but even Spieth admitted his game has not come completely around. Rickie Fowler said Thursday, after Koepka’s 63, that people should not assume Koepka will have the lead going into Sunday, which seems silly now. Of course he will. Those two and everybody else are hoping they get hot and Koepka falls apart, which is why they had to be disappointed at this sight Friday night: Brooks Koepka on the driving range.