ST. LOUIS — A good golf course on an important occasion will almost always produce a superior leaderboard. Welcome to this 100th PGA Championship, people.
Brooks Koepka, known in this bureau as 205 pounds of golfing whoop-ass, leads by two. All he’s done in the past 14 months is win two U.S Opens and spend nearly four months on the DL with a torn left wrist. Talk about whoop-ass!
His Sunday playing partner is Adam Scott, known in this bureau as the man your wife is most likely to leave you for. Scott, winner of the 2013 Masters, is swinging again as he did then, which is to say as Tiger Woods did in 2000. The Australian golfer trails Koepka by two. The last time these two gents enjoyed each other’s no-hysterics company was on the Sunday of last year’s Presidents Cup, when Scott defeated golf’s Mickey Mantle, 3&2. (Or is he the game’s Roger Maris?) So there’s that.
And here come the Nifty Nines, as most everybody around Bellerive is calling the three mega-talents who are at nine under par and one stroke behind Scott: Mr. Jon Rahm, who became engaged (this week!) but is still looking for his first major; Mr. Rickie Fowler, who became engaged (in June!) but is still looking for a first major; and Mr. Gary Woodland, who is married, but is, yes, looking for his first major. In the event that golf needed an understudy for Brooks Koepka, as 205 pounds of golfing whoop-ass, Woodland would be the likely fill-in. He’s a smash-and-grabber, too. Smash the driver, grab the wedge. These guys don’t commit petty crimes. They’re good!
Normally in these Saturday-night write-ups, we do not drift down to the hardworking stiffs who are four shots off the lead and technically still in the thing except for the fact that (in this case) the five guys ahead of them are all too experienced and playing too well to make a victory possible from such a southern local. But these are not normal times.
Your T6ers: T. Woods (14 majors), S. Cink, J. Day, J. Thomas, S. Lowry, C. Schwartzel. Stewart, Jason, Justin and Charl each have one major. Shane might have won the 2016 U.S. Open had Dustin Johnson’s golf ball not fallen off that blade of grass on Oakmont’s 5th green in the last round. It’s a long story.
And we don’t have time for it now.
At 1:55 Sunday afternoon, Central Time, two quiet all-business golfers will be on the 1st tee at this fabled Bellerive course, with its zoysia fairways and slow, soft summer-in-the-Midwest greens. OK, maybe not quite fabled, but Gary Player won a U.S. Open here and Nick Price won a PGA Championship, and they are two of the best players golf has ever seen, so those are two pretty cool winners to help you decorate the halls of your oh-so-sturdy heartland-wealth clubhouse, nicely ACed at about 68 degrees Fahrenheit in these sweltering August dog days.
And what will those two fellas do on No. 1? It’s a long par-4, the way Woods and many others played it on Saturday. Woods, for instance, hit an iron off the tee and had 176 yards in. Koepka wound-up his 205 pounds of — you know — with a driver in hand and had an itty-bitty wedge in for his second. He opened with a birdie and was off and running, needing just 30 shots to play the par-35 front side of this course that got deluged with rain on Saturday afternoon.
Scott will likely hit driver, too. If he hits it within 30 yards of Koepka — not just on 1, but on any of the half-dozen or more holes that lend themselves to driver — he’s doing well. Because Koepka is crazy long. It could be the muscles, coupled with the super-athletic swing.
On U.S. Open Sunday, in his early-morning workout, he bench-pressed 225 pounds 14 times, a feat he described with singular modesty. (“I know that’s not that impressive.”) Why 14? For now, a mystery. Maybe one lift for each hole that was not a par-3?
It takes a certain pissedoffedness to lift weights (not a sentence written with any experience) and it takes a certain pissedoffedness to drive it long and in play. It would be unfair and inaccurate to say that Koepka’s excellence is largely the result of his driving prowess. What seems to happen is that he drives it long and in play, bounds down the fairway with extraordinary confidence and keeps it going all the way until the ball is in the hole. Then he does it again, until he takes the ball out of the last hole.
“I don’t see anything but driver — I don’t know why everybody else is laying up,” Koepka said Saturday night. “You see guys hit iron off the tee and they have got 180 yards. Meanwhile, we have driver and I think we had maybe 90 yards.” He also mentioned how the ball is not rolling too far, what with the fairways being wet and the fairway-grass being zoysia.
He also talked about how little recognition he gets. Koepka described being in a gym on Saturday morning with Dustin Johnson “and everybody wanted a picture with Dustin. They were talking about him as we left and I was just standing there laughing. They were like, ‘Did you see that the No. 1 player in the world was here?’ I don’t know what to say to that.”
He takes life’s various slights and turns them, he said Saturday night as he has said before, into motivation. A motivated Koepka plays with extraordinary composure, as great athletes do.
Scott has picked up on the Koepka mojo, composure, attitude. All of golf has picked up on the quality of his best golf. Scott said Saturday night: “I can see he’s playing with a lot of confidence. He’s giving off that demeanor. So I’m sure he’s going to be liking his position starting tomorrow.”
Unfortunately, for Scott and the other nine golfers within four shots of the lead, that sounds like a completely accurate assessment and there’s an implied prediction in it. This guy won’t fold.
If Koepka wins this 100th PGA, he’ll have three majors (in his last six major starts), same as Jordan Spieth. He’ll have a future date with the Hall of Fame. Maybe before the year’s out he’ll go into a gym with Johnson and some random guy will approach DJ and say, “You know who that guy is? That’s Brooks Koepka!”