On Tuesday at the 101st PGA Championship, Brooks Koepka served Miyazaki beef imported from Japan, roasted Long Island duck and branzino filet for the main course at his PGA champions dinner. In between courses, he said a few words and then asked past champions Rich Beem and Jason Dufner to say a few words about him.
It was Dufner, who told the best story of the night, recounting his reaction when Koepka graduated from Florida State and told Dufner of his intentions to go play the European Tour's Challenge Tour.
"I thought, well, we'll never hear from that guy again," Dufner said.
It was a belief shared by many. Koepka never won a tournament on the Florida Junior Tour as a kid and was lightly recruited out of high school. It was June 2013 when Koepka made three long-distance calls from Scotland. He had won twice on the Challenge Tour already and needed one more victory to earn an automatic promotion to the European Tour, but he was playing for the seventh straight week.
Exhausted and ready to come home, Koepka considered catching a flight back to the U.S. But first, he called fellow tour pro Peter Uihlein, childhood coach, Warren Bottke, a PGA professional, and his mother, Denise Jakows,and between them they talked Koepka off the ledge.
"You've got to finish if you want to make your dreams come true," Bottke said.
It’s good to be Brooks Koepka. pic.twitter.com/0P8euHNIq4— PGA Championship (@PGAChampionship) May 20, 2019
"He was at the end of his rope," his mother said, "but he dug deep."
Koepka shot 62 in the third round that week, rolled to victory, and was on his way. That same no-quit attitude came in handy on Sunday as Koepka made four straight bogeys on the back nine of the final round of the 101st PGA Championship at Bethpage State Park's Black Course and nearly blew a seven-stroke lead.
Instead, he dug deep once again to defend his title and win his fourth major in his last eight major starts. It's heady stuff, drawing comparisons to the type of dominance witnessed during the Tiger Woods era. Koepka, 29, became the only player under 30 with four majors and already has matched the major total of Rory McIlroy, and World Golf Hall of Famers Ernie Els and Raymond Floyd.
Having built a seven-stroke cushion with an eye-popping course-record 63 on Thursday and an equally impressive 5-under 65 on Friday to set the 36-hole major-championship scoring record, Koepka seemed to have sucked all the drama out the season's second major. His final round was supposed to be a coronation ceremony, but proved to be a rollercoaster as the wind howled and Bethpage Black showed its teeth.
"Today was definitely the most satisfying out of all of them for how stressful that round was," Koepka said. "I know for a fact that's the most excited I've ever been in my life there on 18."
Koepka closed with a 4-over 74, tying for the second-highest final-round score for a champion, and a 72-hole total 0f 8-under 272 to beat Dustin Johnson, the only player in the field to card four rounds in the 60s, by two strokes.
Koepka looked as if he might coast to victory after he stiffed a gap wedge to 3 feet at No 10 and made birdie to climb to 13 under. At the same, Johnson carded his first bogey of the day ahead at the 11th and Koepka's lead swelled to six. He looked invincible, a man of steel.
Then the bogey train got him. Four dropped shots between Nos 11-14 combined with a Johnson birdie at 15 and Koepka's lead shrunk to one.
"We found his pulse today. It’s nice to know he actually has blood running through his veins, not motor oil," said Golf Channel's Frank Nobilo.
Yet Koepka never let his nerves get the better of him.
When what you’ve accomplished starts to sink in... pic.twitter.com/5DSE8uDxmD— PGA Championship (@PGAChampionship) May 20, 2019
"I was just in shock," Koepka said. "I can't tell you the last time I made four (bogeys) in a row."
Northern Irishman Ricky Elliott has been on Koepka's bag for six years and called it their most stressful juncture.
"By a mile," Elliott said. "I just kept saying, 'We're still in the lead, we're still in the lead.' "
No golfer in the history of golf had ever coughed up a seven-stroke lead after 54 holes.
"He was going to make history either way, wasn't he?" Elliott said.
The boisterous New York fans smelling blood and sensing an epic choke that would rival Billy Casper's comeback over Arnold Palmer at the 1966 U.S. Open, vocalized their support for the upstart Johnson.
"It's New York. What do you expect when you're half-choking it away," Koepka said.
But Koepka's skin is thick and when the fans began hooting and hollering and chanting, "Dee-Jay, Dee-Jay" on 14, he said it actually helped him refocus.
"I think that was probably the best thing that could have happened," he said.
It didn't hurt that Johnson suddenly began feeling philanthropic to his pal and workout partner. Just when Johnson had clawed his way within a stroke of the lead, he made bogeys at 16 and 17 en route to shooting 1-under 69. That allowed Koepka to overcome a 3-putt bogey at 17 and he made an impressive recovery after a crooked drive at 18 to salvage par at the last. It wasn't pretty, but it proved once again that Koepka is the most mentally strong golfer.
"Brooks to me is like Dustin with Tiger's mind," said Graeme McDowell, who finished T-29. "He's a phenomenal athlete with an incredible mindset and ability to go to this deep, dark place that not a lot of people can find."
It will be difficult for Koepka to keep using his "I get no respect routine" as a source of motivation, but when asked to recall the biggest slight he's ever felt in his career, he didn't hesitate to refer to a recent dig by Golf Channel's Brandel Chamblee.
"When someone said I wasn't tough," Koepka said. "That really pissed me off."
Count Chamblee among the converted believers that Koepka is in a special class of champions.
"To win wire-to-wire is such a mental accomplishment. It’s a Rubik’s cube," he said. "You’re trying to match yourself to the pressures every single day. Trying to keep all those at bay. He’s handled it mentally. He’s handled it physically. He’s handled it technically. Which is exactly what Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods did. He’s made a believer out of me.”
As if anyone needed further confirmation as to the reigning alpha male of golf, Koepka's victory lifted him back to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He also became the first player to be a two-time defending champion in two of the four majors at the same time (2017 and '18 U.S. Open, and going for a three-peat in June at Pebble Beach).
"Four out of eight is like Tiger Woods early 2000s stuff," said Shane Lowry, who closed with 69 to finish T-8 with Rory McIlroy. "I don't understand how people leave him out of the conversation at all, ever."
Those days are over and after a long, hectic, trying afternoon Koepka leaned his arms atop the Wanamaker Trophy and let out a sigh of relief. He finished off what he set out to do just as he had many years ago as a dreamer competing on the Challegne Tour. He had made his dreams come true. He was a major champion again.