Sunday, May 21, 2023

PGA Championship: Wrap-Up

Between 2017 and 2019, Brooks Koepka won four major championships -- two U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships.  It was an amazing run.  But Jordan Spieth also had an amazing run -- two majors in 2015, and another in 2017.  He hasn't won a major since.  Rory McIlroy won one major in 2011, another in 2012, and two more in 2014.  He hasn't won a major since, either.  No one has won a fifth major since Phil Mickelson did it in 2013.  Before that, you have to go back to Tiger in 2000.

And before today, you had to wonder about Koepka.  He had three top 10 finishes in majors during 2021, but last year he was banged up -- missing cuts at the Masters and the British Open, finishing in 55th at the U.S. Open and in a tie for 55th at the PGA.  And he went through all the drama with LIV.  So you just didn't know if he would come all the way back.  He had the lead going into the final round of the Masters, and then blew up with a 75 to lose by four shots.  He didn't do that back between 2017 and 2019.  So even after he took the 54-hole lead yesterday, I had real doubts about whether he could hold up against Victor Hovland.  I knew Hovland would play well, and he did -- he shot a two-under par 68.  But Koepka shot a glorious round -- 34 out and 33 in for a three-under par 67, and the title.  So he has now surpassed Rory, and has reached a very unusual level.  Only 20 men in history have won more than four major golf titles, and six of those men finished their career before World War II.  Here are the other fourteen:

1.  J. Nicklaus:  18

2.  T. Woods:  15

T3.  B. Hogan:  9
T3.  G. Player (RSA):  9

5.  T. Watson:  8

T6.  S. Snead:  7
T6.  A. Palmer:  7

T8.  L. Trevino:  6
T8.  N. Faldo (ENG):  6
T8.  P. Mickelson:  6

T11.  B. Nelson:  5
T11.  P. Thomson (AUS):  5
T11.  S. Ballesteros:  5
T11.  B. Koepka:  5

That's it.  That's the list.  Koepka has already separated himself from the rest of his generation.  Now we see how much further he can go.

This weekend has to have been very frustrating for Scottie Scheffler, who had the lead at the halfway point and who shot a 65 on the last day -- but who blew his chance with a 73 in yesterday's rain.  Since winning the Masters last year, Scheffler has a second in the U.S. Open, a second in the FedEx Cup, and now a second at the PGA.  My guess is that he will be very competitive in the last two majors.

It was also frustrating for Rory McIlroy, who has finished in the top 10 of EIGHTEEN different major tournaments since the last time he won a major in 2014.  Last year, he finished in the top 10 of all four majors.  But he hasn't been able to break through.  The British Press will certainly notice that he now has fewer major titles than Koepka -- and that Koepka is a LIV golfer, while Rory has famously supported the PGA.  Rory is only one year older than Koepka, and I think we'll have more drama from those two over the next few years.  (We should also note that McIlroy was all class today, as he was Michael Block's playing partner, and remained cheerful and supportive throughout all that chaos.)

One other point.  We are in a significant and interesting time in golf architecture, with significant new courses being built and older courses undergoing significant renovations.  I think the work done by Andrew Green on Oak Hill represents some of the best golf architecture in modern times.  I remembered it as a typical USGA-type course, crowded with lots of trees, rough, and forgettable par fours.  It was the sort of course that turned up mediocre winners.  Green brought it back to life, gave it a personality and a flow, and built a course that clearly distinguished great players from good players.  The course was challenging despite two days of rain and not very much wind, and yet you never felt like the course had been tricked up to punish good shots.  It's just a great piece of work, and I hope Green gets a lot of credit for it.

1.  B. Koepka-9 (72+66+66+67=271)

T2.  S. Scheffler-7 (67+68+73+65=273)
T2.  V. Hovland (NOR):  -7 (68+67+70+68=273)

T4.  C. Davis (AUS):  -3 (71+70+71+65=277)
T4.  K. Kitayama-3 (70+71+71+65=277)
T4.  B. DeChambeau-3 (66+71+70+70=277)

T7.  S. Straka (AUT):  -2 (69+71+73+65=278)
T7.  R. McIlroy (NIR):  -2 (71+69+69+69=278)

T9.  C. Smith (AUS):  -1 (72+72+70+65=279)
T9.  P. Cantlay-1 (74+67+72+66=279)
T9.  J. Rose (ENG):  -1 (69+70+69+71=279)

Next up:  the U.S. Open goes to the Los Angeles Country Club -- a course that I have never seen.


  1. Wikipedia counts today's tournament as Koepka's 9th victory on the PGA Tour, even though of course he's now on the LIV Tour.

  2. But the whole LIV thing doesn't bother me at all. For decades, some of the biggest names in golf have been Europeans who don't play regularly on the PGA Tour. So if I only see Koepka four times a year, I can live with that.