KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — Entering this week’s PGA Championship, the good folks in the desert considered 15 golfers (depending on the sportsbook) more likely to win than Brooks Koepka.
That’s because we’re all idiots.
The rules don’t apply to Brooks Koepka at major championships. The five missed cuts in eight starts doesn’t matter. The balky knee doesn’t matter. Nor does the quilted hat or the villainous goatee or the general surliness entering the week. But the golf world forgot that anyway. He was a 50-1 longshot. Not anymore.
We should know by now to trust Koepka and to take him at his word, because for this guy, major championships are different.
These are Koepka’s results in his last 13 major starts:
You can throw out the last one; Koepka gimped his way around Augusta National just to prove that he could. The rest of the resume should be enough to endure for decades. Four wins, two runner-ups, and nine total top-10s in 13 tries? You’d think that would earn him some wiggle room.
Still, if you were ready to write off Koepka going into Thursday’s round, you looked like a wise punter through one hole. Koepka got stuck in a waste area and made double bogey at No. 10, his starting hole.
“It was just stupid,” he said. Fair enough. He was near-invincible the rest of the way, making six birdies against a single bogey to open with a three-under 69.
If you were convinced that was a fluke, well, I admire your stubbornness. But you were rewarded again by Koepka’s start again on Friday. Playing in the toughest conditions of the day, he bogeyed 4 and 6 and fell down the leaderboard.
But then eagled 7, hacking 8-iron from a bush before pouring in a 40-footer that brought the raucous Kiawah crowd to its feet. He dripped in another eagle putt at 11. A birdie at 12. Suddenly he was tied for the lead. Of course he was.
(Sidenote: He was asked about the approach to 7, from the foliage. Was it a difficult shot? “What, out of the bush? I don’t know, you tell me,” he said. “It was in a bush.” Vintage Brooks.)
Kiawah’s closing stretch is vicious, even in the Golden Hour on a Friday night. Koepka made bogies at 15 and 17. He made a nifty up-and-down at 18 to salvage a round of one-under 71, good for solo third heading to the weekend.
After the round, I asked Koepka how he’d grade his round. “C-plus,” he said. “I thought I struck it great. I drove it a lot better. But it’s tough to putt in this wind, man.”
Koepka’s impression was that he “ball-struck” his way around the course. He was right — he was second-best from tee to green on Friday but 109th in putting.
He spoke after his round about the difficulty of rehab, and how “all of this” seems easy by comparison. He hit some range balls after speaking to the press. Then he planned to go ice his knee, get some treatment, ice his knee some more and settle in for the night.
“It’s a major, man,” he said by way of summation. He should put that on t-shirts and bumper stickers. “It’s going to be tough, especially with the wind blowing. It doesn’t matter. Just go out and go play.”
A quick scan of the bookmakers on Friday night painted a distinctly different picture. He’s one shot off the lead, but there, at the top of the board, sits one name:
Bet against him at your own peril.