The journey to his fifth major victory wasn't easy for Brooks Koepka.
He endured injuries that challenged his supreme confidence, left him wondering if he would ever return to peak form. Less than two years ago, he had doubts. Could he compete with the game’s elite?
The injuries have healed and the doubts are gone now, replaced on Sunday by the Wanamaker Trophy given to the PGA Championship winner.
"To look back to where we were two years ago, I'm so happy right now," Koepka said. "This is just the coolest thing."
Koepka won his third PGA Championship title and became the first LIV Golf League member to hoist a major trophy since LIV Golf's inception nearly a year ago, winning by two shots in a tense battle at Oak Hill.
The 33-year-old Koepka becomes the seventh male golfer since 1950 to win five majors before the age of 34. The previous six are in the World Golf Hall of Fame – Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
Koepka no doubt will join them in the Hall of Fame once he becomes age-eligible.
It's his first major win since 2019 and completes a return to major championship form. Only Woods (15) and fellow LIV Golf League member Phil Mickelson (6) have more major victories among active players.
Koepka said he never dreamed of winning five majors, even as a kid. Asked to rank his five major wins, Koepka replied: "This is probably the sweetest one of them all because all the hard work that went into this one. This one is definitely special. This one is probably it for me."
He also becomes the sixth golfer to win at least three PGA Championships, joining Walter Hagen (5), Nicklaus (5), Woods (4), Gene Sarazen (3) and Sam Snead (3). And he wins a major for the third time in New York, having previously won the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills and the 2019 PGA at Bethpage Black.
The major victory is also Koepka’s first since joining LIV Golf last year as the Smash GC captain, and it continues his hot streak in the last two months that started with a win at LIV Golf Orlando in early April. He then followed with a tie for second at the Masters, a solo third at LIV Golf Singapore and a tie for fifth last week at LIV Golf Tulsa.
"I think I was the first guy to win two LIV events," said Koepka, who won the regular-season finale in Jeddah last year. "To win a major is always a big deal no matter where you're playing. All it does, I just think, I guess, validates it for myself. I guess maybe if anybody doubted it from Augusta or whatever, any doubts anybody on TV might have or whatever, I'm back, I'm here."
Koepka had entered the final round at Augusta National with the lead but shot a 75 and was passed by Jon Rahm. He guaranteed he wouldn’t make the same missteps that cost him the opportunity to slip on his first green jacket.
“I knew what I did in Augusta,” Koepka said. “I spent the whole night thinking about it. I knew what I did and I knew I was never going to come out and think that way again. Didn't do that. ...
"I definitely wouldn't have, I don't think, won today if that didn't happen; right? Definitely take it and keep using it going forward for each event, each major, any time I'm in contention, but I'm not going to share. I can't give away all the secrets."
After seizing control of the tournament with back-to-back 66s on a course that wasn't giving up many low numbers the first three days, Koepka shot a final-round 3-under 67 on Sunday to finish at 9 under, two strokes ahead of Norway’s Viktor Hovland and American Scottie Scheffler.
He never trailed at any time in the final round and it looked like he might pull away from the chasers early with a string of three consecutive birdies at holes 2, 3 and 4. At that point, he was three strokes ahead.
But he found trouble at the par-4 sixth, the most difficult hole on the course this week, with an errant drive that resulted in a penalty stroke. That bogey, followed by another bogey at the seventh, brought him back to the pack, and he was closely trailed by Hovland for the next nine holes.
Koepka made four pressure birdies during a seven-hole stretch on the back nine to remain in control and fend off Hovland and Scheffler, who made a late charge. Hovland was undone at the 16th hole when his shot out of the bunker plugged into the turf near the edge of the sand. Koepka birdied the hole, giving him a comfortable advantage going into 17.
"Brooks is a great player, and now he has five majors," Hovland said. "I mean, that's a hell of a record right there. It's not easy going toe to toe with a guy like that. He is not going to give you anything, and I didn't really feel like I gave him anything either until 16."
Added Scheffler: "Right now I'm a little sad that I wasn't able to get the tournament done, but I'm proud of how I fought, I'm proud of how I played the back nine today to give myself a chance. I got beat by somebody that played better this week, and tip of the cap to Brooks."
Bryson DeChambeau shot a even-par 70 to finish T4 while Cameron Smith shot a 5-under 65 to finish T9. It's the second consecutive major in which three LIV golfers finished inside the top 10.
A total of 16 LIV Golf League members participated in this week's major and they will be in this week's field as LIV Golf resumes its schedule in D.C.
PHOTO CREDIT: AP/Seth Wenig