FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – The Masters gave golf the Tiger Bounce, a surge in ratings and casual-fan enthusiasm unique to a Tiger Woods victory.
The PGA Championship gave golf the Koepka Conundrum: What happens when the most dominant player since Woods brings steak but not sizzle?
Woods captivated during his prime because of accomplishment and entertainment. He won majors at an unprecedented pace. He did so by hitting the ball spectacular distances, making astonishing recoveries, making chips hang on the edge of the cup tantalizingly before falling, and throwing fist pumps that would have backed Mike Tyson into a corner.
Brooks Koepka is a power player in Woods’ mold, but without the charisma or cussing, without providing a sense that we’re witnessing history.
But are we?
Rory McIlroy became a sensation by winning four majors in four years. Jordan Spieth by winning three in three seasons. Koepka has won four in less than two calendar years, has won consecutive U.S. Opens and PGA Championships, has won while coming from behind and while dominating from the first hole of a major.
Tiger himself demonstrated the dangers of comparing anyone to Jack Nicklaus and his 18 major championships. Woods put together the most dominant 10-year run in golf history, winning 13 majors from 1999 through 2008, yet remains three behind Jack.
Koepka could win a major a year for the next 10 years and enter his age-40 season with 14 majors. Nicklaus won three majors after turning 40. Woods has won one.
But it is Nicklaus himself, if not Nicklaus the major-championship anomaly, who seems most comparable to Koepka.
Both display athletic arrogance. Both dismiss much of the field at a major, knowing there are players who will talk or whine themselves out of contention. Both combine prodigious length with driver accuracy. Both made clutch putts. And both were built for majors because of the ability to constantly outdrive opponents and hit the ball to the middle of the green, plodding the course and the field to death.
The players who would be the next Tiger have faltered. McIlroy hasn’t won a major since 2014. Spieth hasn’t won a tournament since winning his third major, at the British Open in 2017. Dustin Johnson has somehow won only one major despite having a half-dozen prime chances.
McIlroy and Spieth have personalities built to win over the masses. Johnson and Koepka, golfing buddies and workout partners, might not.
But Koepka is more interesting than his reputation would allow. He was not a blue-chip golfer when young. He had to play all over the world to earn his PGA Tour card. He didn’t win his first major until he was 27 — leaving him far behind the career arc of prodigies such as McIlroy and Spieth.
Koepka chafes at some criticisms and invents others — “In my own head,” he said — to inspire himself.
Is he boring?
No more than Nicklaus often was during his prime. And remember that Woods was the master of killing press-conference questions with a glare, a cliché or a cross word.
This past week at Bethpage Black, Koepka answered questions bluntly and sometimes with humor. Just because he’s not Tiger doesn’t mean he’s not interesting.
He’s popular with fellow players, and especially the Americans with whom he has competed at the Ryder Cup. On Saturday, he and Spieth played together and spent down time on the tees chatting and laughing.
Koepka is hardly an ogre. His game is hardly boring. After all that has happened, maybe we should consider the fact that he is not Tiger Woods as a good thing.
When Koepka plays at the 3M Open this summer in Blaine, he likely will do so as the top-ranked golfer in the world, one intent on winning as many majors as he can.
What more could a golf fan want?