Brooks Koepka fired up by fans leaving him in hour of need

Brooks Koepka admitted the sound of the fans turning against him worked in his favour as he held his nerve to claim back-to-back US PGA titles and a fourth major title in his last eight starts.

Brooks Koepka with the Wanamaker Trophy after defending his US PGA title. Picture: Warren Little/Getty Images
Brooks Koepka with the Wanamaker Trophy after defending his US PGA title. Picture: Warren Little/Getty Images

Koepka took a tournament-record seven-shot lead into the final round at Bethpage and was still six clear with eight to play, only to bogey four holes in succession and see Dustin Johnson close to within a single shot.

By this stage, the raucous New York crowd were firmly on Johnson’s side and were chanting “DJ, DJ” as Koepka bogeyed the 14th. But Johnson would drop shots on the 16th and 17th, leaving Koepka to seal a hard-fought victory in Long Island.

“It’s New York. What do you expect when you’re half-choking it away?” Koepka said with a smile. “I think I kind of deserved it. You’re going to rattle off four [bogeys] 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.”

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Koepka steadied the ship with vital pars on the tough 15th and 16th holes and eventually signed for a closing 74 – the highest final round by a major winner in 15 years – and a two-shot victory.

The 29-year-old has replaced Johnson as world No 1 and, with the US PGA moving from August to May this year, he is the first player to hold back-to-back titles in two majors at the same time following his US Open wins in 2017 and 2018.

“Phenomenal. I think that’s a good word,” Koepka said when asked to sum up his recent form in major championships. “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 I’ll just try to ride that momentum going into Pebble [Beach, venue for the US Open]. I mean four of eight [majors], I like the way that sounds.”

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Koepka, who has never looked back since winning the 2013 Scottish Challenge at Macdonald Spey Valley in Aviemore to secure an automatic step up to the European Tour, added: “This one’s definitely at the top of the list in how emotionally spent I am and how mentally spent I am. I’m just glad we didn’t have to play any more holes, that was a stressful round of golf.

“The wind was up, DJ [Johnson] played awesome and he put the pressure on. I’m glad to have this thing [the Wanamaker Trophy] back in my hands. It’s incredible. I don’t even know if I dreamed of this. This is cool. I am still in shock right now, this is awesome.”

Koepka will head to Pebble Beach next month looking for a third consecutive US Open victory – a feat achieved just once in the tournament’s history – by Scotland’s Willie Anderson from 1903 to 1905. The 29-year-old American will then rely heavily on caddie Ricky Elliott’s local knowledge as the Open Championship is staged in his bagman’s home town of Portrush for the first time since 1951.

“I’ve played there a lot growing up but Brooks hits the ball differently than the lines I hit it on,” said Elliott, who is good friends with another Portrush native, former US Open champion Graeme McDowell.

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“I’ll have to work on my yardage book for Brooks playing it but obviously a little local knowledge doesn’t hurt. Brooks has got a big following in Portrush, probably because of me, so he’ll be well supported and I think Portrush will be set up well for him.”

Elliott was a very good golfer in his own right, winning titles such as the Ulster Boys Championship and the Ulster Youth Championship as well as representing Ireland at the 1990 European Youths Championship.

After attending the University of Toledo on a golf scholarship, Elliott tried to make it as a professional before accepting an assistant professional’s post at Lake Nona in Orlando.

The 42-year-old eventually moved into caddying and worked for the likes of 2003 Open champion Ben Curtis before the job opportunity which would change his life.

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“Claude Harmon was coaching Brooks and he said he needs a caddie for Oak Hill,” Elliott added. “We made the cut and then Claude said at the end of the week, ‘do you fancy doing a few more?’, and six years later... It’s been all right.

“The first practice we played I just thought, ‘This guy is the real deal, he is hitting the ball unbelievably.’ There was just something about him. Obviously you could never say he was going to do this, but there was always something that was different about him.

“What he’s just done goes down in history. He’s just so calm all the time. He obviously realises he’s one of the better players out here now and getting through at Erin Hills sort of stamped that on him and his place in the game now is in stone. He’s just one of the best players and to be honest he goes out there and thinks that.

“One of Brooks’s qualities is that he listens to people around him; he takes advice, he likes to talk to other players, especially Graeme [McDowell] in the early days, finding out what it takes to win a major and have a successful career.”