In the end, Brooks Koepka wrote checks that his game simply couldn't cash.
For the past three years, Koepka has swaggered around the golfing world with an air of superiority as if he had found the secret to contending and winning major championships. An elixir to greatness known only to him.
Koepka's act was at first new and refreshing and he backed it up, winning four majors in two years, including back-to-back U.S. Opens and back-to-back PGA Championships.
His constant major success turned his confidence to arrogance. He pretended to not care about contending at regular tour events as if it were beneath him to worry about competing against his contemporaries more than four times a year. He claimed that he found contending at and winning majors to be easier because he entered the week believing he only had to beat a handful of players, thinking most either weren’t at his level or didn't have the mental fortitude to contend and thrive on the biggest stages as he had.
Koepka talked the talk --and for a time walked the walk -- trying to convince people he was an invincible force at major championships that it would take a Herculean effort to best. That he, like Tiger Woods in his prime, was unfazed by the major moments that make most players buckle. The four-time major champion spent the last two major seasons playing phenomenal golf and drinking his own Kool-Aid, buying into the myth he’d been crafting, that he had something every other player simply did not.
Koepka’s act reached an insufferable level of arrogance Saturday when he walked off the green after the third round of the 2020 PGA Championship and immediately started disregarding 54-hole leader Dustin Johnson, a 21-time PGA Tour winner and U.S. Open champion.
Like a high school jock who bullies kids to make himself feel better, Koepka acted like it was a foregone conclusion that he would overtake Johnson on Sunday at TPC Harding Park to win his third consecutive Wanamaker Trophy to become the first player to three-peat at the PGA Championship since Walter Hagen won four in a row from 1924-27.
As it turns out hubris doesn’t make you a major champion. The beauty of golf is that there is no hiding when your game leaves you, and the game delivered Koepka a massive dose of reality Sunday on Lake Merced.
Koepka opened the day two shots back of Johnson but almost immediately fell out of contention, going out in 4-over par, which included carding three straight bogeys on holes seven, eight and nine, to drop to 3-under for the tournament.
His shot at immortality was gone. His aura of invincibility shattered.
“Every time I hit it in the rough today, I got probably the worst lie I've had all week,” Koepka said after shooting a 4-over-par 74 to finish 10 shots back of winner Collin Morikawa. “You know, if you're going to put it in the rough out here, it's pretty tough. The green speeds this weekend I never really got down. I felt like the putting green was a little bit quicker. And just never quite got putts to the hole to make anything. So, you don't do that, it’s going to be tough.”
Even after Sunday’s final-round flop, Koepka was quick to deflect the attention back to his recent major track record.
“I mean, it's my first bad round in a while in a major,” Koepka said trying to brush off his poor play as he would on a Thursday at the Zurich Classic. “You know, hey, wasn't meant to be. Three in a row, you’re not really supposed to do two in a row looking at history, but that's all right.”
After having plenty to say before the final round, Koepka didn’t offer much Sunday evening. He was complimentary of Morikawa, who won the title in just his second career start, and exited stage left.
All the verbal jabs and excessive arrogance couldn’t ignite Koepka’s game Sunday. Karma and the golf gods poked holes in his act as golf’s unbeatable alpha male.
There is no secret sauce to Koepka’s major success. Having supreme confidence in yourself doesn’t make you bulletproof on major Sundays. There are no accidents in golf. You either have it or you don’t.
Koepka’s major run was brilliant, of that there is no doubt. His four major wins already have him ticketed for the golf Hall of Fame, and he is more than capable of adding more majors to his resume.
But the elaborate persona he’s constructed over the past two years evaporated Sunday when he came apart like a wet paper sack as TPC Harding Park handed him his lunch. His 4-over-par 74 was the second-worst score in the field Sunday, ahead of only Jim Herman’s 75.
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Koepka entered Sunday’s final round overconfident and left deflated after buckling under the weight of major history.
A mortal just like the rest of us, Koepka now must prove the greatness he showed over the past two years is real and sustainable.
Only his game can do the talking this time around.