FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – The wind gusted, carrying cheers to Brooks Koepka’s ears. Strangely, they were not for him.
He had led the PGA Championship all week, had set a course record in the first round and a record for largest 36-hole lead and had entered the final round with a seven-shot lead. No one had ever entered a final round in PGA Tour history with such a lead and failed to win.
On Sunday afternoon, the wind began to blow, the fairways began to look like bike paths and Koepka’s lead shrunk dangerously, and the New Yorkers lining the fairways began chanting the initials of his friend and closest pursuer, Dustin Johnson.
Koepka admitted he was “shocked” by his predicament. He knew at that moment that he would be making history, win or lose, and that the world’s most famously blunt fans might like to see him become a punch line.
“It’s New York,” Koepka said. “What do you expect when you’re half-choking it away?”
He was smiling, but not kidding. “I think I kind of deserved it,” he said. “You’re going to rattle off four in a row and it looks like you’re going to lose it; I’ve been to sporting events in New York. I know how it goes.
“I think it actually helped. It was at a perfect time because I was just thinking, OK, all right. I’ve got everybody against me. Let’s go.”
Koepka admitted he will invent a slight when he can’t find one, that he plays best with “a chip on my shoulder.” He might face more difficulty finding insults in which to marinate after proving he’s tough enough to win when an entire golf course seems to have turned against him.
Koepka survived a stretch of four bogeys on the back nine Sunday to win the PGA Championship by two shots over Johnson and six shots over the rest of the field.
He is the first player in men’s golf history to win four majors in less than two years. He is the first to win the PGA wire-to-wire since 1983. He joins Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as players who have won four majors in eight starts. He joins Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros and Woods in winning two majors multiple times before the age of 30.
He is the only current player under 30 who has won four majors, and he is the first man in history to be the two-time defending champion of two different majors.
He moved into the top spot in the world rankings, and if he wins the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, he will play at the 3M Open in Minnesota as golf’s most dominant player since Woods was in his prime.
Koepka introduced himself to casual golf fans by winning three of four possible points at the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. By the time he reaches Blaine this summer, he might be on his way to building one of the greatest careers in golf history.
“Phenomenal,” he said. “I think that’s a good word. Yeah, it’s been a hell of a run. It’s been fun. I’m trying not to let it stop. It’s super enjoyable, and just try to ride that momentum going into Pebble. I think that’s — I mean, four of eight, I like the way that sounds.”
Bethpage Black couldn’t let Koepka leave without a few bruises. He birdied the 10th hole yet played the back nine in 39, allowing Johnson to cut the lead to two. Koepka hit driver off the 18th tee — a logical play, because the bunkers discourage laying up — and landed in the rough.
He hacked the ball to the fairway, hit a lob wedge to 8 feet and made par, pumping his fist like a latter-day Tiger.
Koepka has taken heat for occasional combativeness, for being less than charismatic, but he spent the week playing dominant golf and giving straight answers. If New Yorkers don’t like him, they’re missing out on the best story in golf.
“It’s a pretty crazy day,” said Harold Varner III, who shot an 81 playing alongside Koepka. “I thought it was pretty weird how they were telling Brooks to choke. That’s not my cup of tea. I was pulling for him after that. I have a few choice words for that.”
Koepka said the jeering helped him. There are choice words for that: Tough. Historic. And champion.