FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – It wasn’t prolonged ago that Brooks Koepka was merely a friendly sidekick, a submissive challenger to Dustin Johnson’s throne. They played golf together. They carried weights together. They boated and fished and vacationed together. But a viable hazard to his supremacy? Oh, no. Unlikely.
And nonetheless there was Johnson, in a scoring tent during Bethpage Black, glancing adult during a TV guard as Koepka sealed in on another major, on a verge of eclipsing him even further.
In a 25-mph wind, on a cruel march that incited careless drives into hack-outs, Johnson had played majestically for 15 holes, rupturing into Koepka’s large advantage and trailing by usually one as he stood over his 194-yard proceed into a 16th green.
But a subsequent 45 mins during a PGA Championship succinct since a generously gifted Johnson has usually a singular vital in 40 starts, while Koepka usually bagged his fourth in his past 8 attempts. The answer was right there on a scorecard he was double-checking with Sharpie marker, a uninterrupted bogeys late that nullified his conspicuous spin of 69 and left him second in a vital – again.
After signing his card, Johnson meandered over to a TV tent for an on-camera interview. While watchful to go live, Johnson watched Koepka navigate a 18th hole. There was still a slight possibility of a playoff, generally after Koepka’s expostulate sailed left, into a local area, yet afterwards he chopped behind into play and wedged to 6 feet. It was over.
“We can start now,” Johnson pronounced to a interviewer.
Entering a final spin 7 shots behind, Johnson knew that he indispensable a special spin – and some assistance – to acquire his initial vital pretension given a 2016 U.S. Open, the breakthrough that was ostensible to open a floodgates. He raced off to a dream start, creation a spin in 3 underneath to spin a PGA into a two-man race, yet a breeze switched when a final groups headed to a behind 9 and incited a shutting widen into a exam of survival.
After looking unstoppable for three-and-a-half days, Koepka began shifting down a leaderboard. Errant drives on Nos. 11, 12 and 13. An airmailed tee shot on 14. Coupled with a Johnson birdie on 15, a seven-shot lead was now down to a singular stroke, and for a initial time, Koepka’s caddie, Ricky Elliott, beheld his routinely unflappable trainer looking anxious.
“I wasn’t nervous,” Koepka said. “I was usually in shock.”
Meanwhile, a crowd, intuiting a potentially ancestral collapse, shifted a devotion to Johnson, aloud chanting, “DJ! DJ! DJ!” Just like that, Koepka was ecstatic to another time, not so prolonged ago, when Johnson was a categorical captivate and Koepka a small bit player, when he’d try over to Johnson’s place in South Florida and glance longingly during a U.S. Open prize on his table.
“I consider it indeed helped,” Koepka pronounced afterward. “It was during a ideal time, since we was usually thinking, ‘OK, I’ve got everybody opposite me. Let’s go.’”
Their rooting seductiveness was understandable. There’s no one on a universe who plays as consistently glorious as Johnson. He’s a 20-time leader on Tour, with during slightest one pretension any deteriorate as a pro. He’s won opposite a best non-major fields, with 10 sum titles in World Golf Championships and playoff events. He’s been ranked inside a tip 3 in strokes gained: sum – a statistic that accounts for any aspect of a player’s diversion – in any of a past 4 seasons. But careers are fundamentally tangible by a player’s opening in a majors, and Johnson has a controversy-marred U.S. Open … and a whole lot of heartache. That includes during final year’s U.S. Open during Shinnecock, when Johnson hold a 36-hole lead and Koepka stared him down in a final round, conduct to head, and perpetually altered a dynamics of their loving relationship.
“He’s as rival of a chairman as I’ve ever met,” pronounced Koepka’s pitch coach, Claude Harmon III, “and we consider we need not indispensably rivalries, yet people to pull we and to enthuse you. DJ has finished a good pursuit of that.”
And so it mattered small that Johnson didn’t have a picturesque possibility during a commencement of a day – trailing by one on 16, that was his possibility to punch back. Finally.
With 194 yards for his proceed into 16, into a fan, Johnson debated between 4- and 5-iron and opted for a shorter club. His low pull still flew 203 yards, settling into a severe behind a green. He pitched to 8 feet and strike what he suspicion was a ideal putt, usually for it to cut in front of a cup. Bogey.
“I don’t know what else to do there,” he said.
On a rough 17th, Johnson missed a immature right and couldn’t get adult and down. Another bogey. And on 18, he never gave himself a possibility for a shutting birdie, rupturing his expostulate into a fairway bunker, hooking his proceed far-reaching of a immature and wanting to hole a 6-footer usually to save par. It was a finish of a demoralizing widen that unprotected Johnson’s crunch-time frailties.
“I would have favourite to have a integrate shots back,” he said, “but that’s how it goes.”
Behind Johnson, Koepka showed his mettle, pulsation ideal drives on 15 and 16 to set adult stress-free pars that increasing his cushion. Even yet he dismissed a final-round 74, even yet he saw his lead evaporate from 7 shots to usually one, Koepka was a one posing following with a Wanamaker Trophy for a second uninterrupted year.
“It doesn’t unequivocally matter how,” Harmon said. “He’ll get as many out of this as if he would have won by 15.”
So what’s a separator between a dual best players in a world? Why has Johnson been disposed to vital let downs, while Koepka has thrived on a biggest stages, prevalent on a funky, links-style course, and on dishonourable greens, and opposite Tiger Woods, and on one of a many brutal setups imaginable?
“He has showed over a final dual to 3 years how mentally tough he is,” Harmon said. “To do what he’s done, he’s singly talented. He’s got outrageous balls. Like … large balls. You have to be means to do that to win these things.”
Throughout his unhappy career, Johnson has proven to be remarkably resilient, bouncing behind from steady failures usually to get his heart damaged again. Afterward, he was sensitive that he’d prisoner not his second major, yet a final leg of a some-more frustrating pretension – the Career Runner-Up Slam.
“Yayyyyyy,” he said, with ridicule enthusiasm. “I’m so excited.”
Searching for china linings in another late letdown, a contributor asked Johnson whom he believed was a best actor in a world.
“I’m flattering certain I’m still ranked No. 1,” Johnson replied, “so I’d collect myself.”
Only that wasn’t true. Not anymore.
With his fourth vital in 23 months, Koepka leapfrogged Johnson and reclaimed a tip spot.
The small hermit is a bully, now and maybe forever.