20 May 2019: Brooks Koepka looked unassailable for 64 holes. And then the wind finally got to him. He made four straight birdies, Dustin Johnson threatened to ambush the party with a couple of birdies and suddenly, the PGA Championship felt wide open. In the end though, Koepka maintained his composure to bring it home for a two-stroke victory for a fourth major title in his last eight starts.
Here are the excerpts of his press conference as the champion of the 101st PGA Championship
Q. A lot of guys win majors because they kind of fall into their laps. You’ve had to go out and get all four of these. Can you talk about what that felt like?
BROOKS KOEPKA: Man, it’s felt great. You knew today was going to be a tough day when it was blowing 15 or 20 on the range. I left 10 feeling pretty good and left 14 not feeling so good. It’s very — it can change very, very quick. This golf course, it’s in the trees. You’re going to — once it gets above the tree line, it can do whatever it wants. You’ve just got to hang tough, and it’s been so enjoyable. It was nice to finish on 18. I’m just glad we didn’t have to play anymore, that’s for sure.
Q. Just wondering how much of today’s struggle was the wind, and how much was just maybe being slightly off? Because you said, even Friday, you didn’t quite think you had it. And, well, did you have it today and it was just very difficult?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I felt like I was playing good. I just made mistakes at the wrong time. This golf course, that whole stretch, from 7 to 13, you’ve got to hit good drives. I put it in the rough. You’re going to have a lot of short par looks.
I mean, I challenge anybody to go play this golf course in 15- to 20-mile-an-hour winds and see what they shoot. DJ played a hell of a round. That was pretty good. This golf course, it will test you for sure.
Q. After you celebrated with the trophy, you let out a big sigh of relief. How good did it feel to let that out, and why do that?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I mean, why? I mean, I just won (smiling). I tell you what, the hour spent from No. 11 to 14 was interesting. When they started chanting, “DJ” on 14, it actually kind of helped, to be honest with you. I think it helped me kind of refocus and hit a good one down 15. I think that was probably the best thing that could have happened. It was very, very stressful, the last hour and a half of that round. That’s why I let a big sigh of relief go.
Q. You alluded to it, but what’s going through your mind on the walk from 14 to 15 after the four straight bogeys?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I knew I had a one-shot lead at that point. And then when I got to 15 fairway, I saw DJ missed it, and I knew I had two. I felt like as long as I had the lead, I was fine. I felt like, as long as I put it in the fairway, I was going to be all right. I was striking it well. I was putting it well. Hitting my lines.
From there, it was just kind of — you’ve got to reset. Hey, I just know if I can make pars coming in, I’ll be just fine. This golf course isn’t going to allow many birdies, and if you can par it to death, it’s coming in, especially, with the wind direction being straight in on 18, 16 being pretty much into, and 17 being straight off the left, it’s not the easiest wind coming in.
Q. Ricky said on the back there that was the most nervous he had ever seen you, but then he said he didn’t actually know if you were nervous. He just kind of assumed. So, were you?
BROOKS KOEPKA: No, I wasn’t nervous. I was just in shock, I think. I was in shock of what was kind of going on. On 14, we had 150 yards to the hole, and Harold hit 8 and the wind ate it up, and mine, it just died on me. You know, I made a good swing there, too. I felt like I just got stuck on a bogey train. If you’re going to put it in the rough, you’re going to have really rely on your putter.
I didn’t make one on 11. On 12, didn’t have the easiest of par looks. 13 was a bit disappointing, and 14 was just a bit of a shock to go four in a row. I can’t tell you the last time I’ve made four bogeys in a row. I don’t know if I ever have — I’m sure I have. But just had to reset. And like I said, I think everybody chanting, “DJ” kind of helped that.
Q. What would you have said if someone told you after your win in Phoenix four years ago that you would have four major wins so quickly?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I don’t know. I don’t know what I thought. Probably at the time, I know I’m not as good as I am now. I’d probably have said, “Sounds great, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
Yeah, I don’t think I would have dreamed this in 2015 — or was it 2015 that I won Phoenix? Yeah, 2015.
Q. On 15, you could see Dustin miss?
BROOKS KOEPKA: Yeah, we’re down, it’s kind of perfect, because once you leave 15 tee box, you can kind of see 16 green. So right when we were walking, I saw he had a putt, and obviously I heard the “oohh,” so I knew.
Q. Was there any time that you considered failing, or worried about failing, and if not, was that as most of a test as it was to not think that way?
BROOKS KOEPKA: It was definitely a test. I never thought about failing. I was trying my butt off. If I would have bogeyed all the way in, you know, I still would have looked at it as I tried my hardest. That’s all I can do. Sometimes that’s all you’ve got. You know, even if I would have lost, I guess you could say choked it away. I tried my tail off just to even make par and kind of right the ship.
But I never once thought about it. I always felt like once I had the lead, you know, he’s going to make one more birdie and I’ve got to make a bogey for this thing to kind of switch. I think hitting 15 tee shot down the middle of the fairway definitely kind of helped ease a little bit of the tension, knowing that that pin was kind of in a gettable spot but then hit a terrible wedge shot. I don’t know how you miss that slope, but I did.
Q. Just wondering if you could touch on your relationship with Warren, especially as you were starting your professional career and how nice to see him behind 18th green today?
BROOKS KOEPKA: Yeah, it was nice to see Warren today. Obviously he’s been a big part of my life and a big part of kind of how I developed in this game and where I am now.
You know, he’s been like a second dad to me. He’s been very important to me. You know, we exchange texts quite a lot. See him every year at Honda. It was very special to have him here this time and meant the world to me.
Q. You mentioned the 18th tee and kind of feel the pressure, can you tell us, did you know when your lead was and what did you think about on that tee shot? Was there a consideration of possibly laying back, and what were you trying to do with the tee shot there?
BROOKS KOEPKA: Yeah, I knew where I stood all day. Even like I kept telling myself, when we were up by four, it doesn’t matter, you’re still up by four. They have got to do something to come get you. But 18 tee, I never once thought about anything but driver. It’s one of those holes where it’s pumping 25 into you. If you hit it in the bunkers or if you hit it anywhere, you just chop it out like I did. Felt like I kind of got unlucky. If it was probably in the bunker, I would have gone for the green, no doubt. But I’ll take my four and get out of there.
Q. Were you surprised, disappointed, that the New York golf fans seemed to turn against you there? You’re a baseball guy. Did you feel like you were playing for the Red Sox or something?
BROOKS KOEPKA: It’s New York. What do you expect, when you’re half-choking it away. (Smiling wryly).
Q. Just to follow up that, can you expand a little bit more? Was there disappointment on your part? Is there disappointment on your heart? Harold Varner mentioned it in his press conference about he was disappointed to hear the chants of “DJ” when he’s not even in your group. Is there disappointment at being treated that way?
BROOKS KOEPKA: No, I don’t think so. I think I kind of deserved it. 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.
Like I said, I think it actually helped. It was at a perfect time because I was just thinking, okay, all right. I’ve got everybody against me. Let’s go. Yeah, I mean, I definitely heard the cheers, too. But the chants on 14 green with DJ was — I think that’s kind of when Ricky probably mentioned — for that question earlier — when I was kind of in shock. Kind of all that was going on at the same time.
Q. You’re now recognized as the world’s No. 1. I know this is all relatively fresh, and you described it as “mind-blowing” but the only two people that have more majors than you on Tour are Phil and Tiger. The past two years have been a whirlwind of experience. How would you describe this run that you’re on?
BROOKS KOEPKA: Phenomenal. 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, 4 of 8, I like the way that sounds.
Q. Rich Beem said that the way you attacked the course and your demeanor reminds him of Raymond Floyd, and Ray Floyd said the same thing; that watching you reminds him of himself. How do you process that?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I’ll be honest, I didn’t watch much of Ray. So I don’t know what to say. I mean, I’ve watched a couple highlight tapes of him. I know he’s pretty good. But if you’re going to be compared to him, that’s always an honor. He’s one of the greats to play the game, so to have my name be mentioned with him is special. I mean, I wish I could have seen him play (smiling).
Q. Did you notice the fans break through the rope on 18?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I notice everything. I notice more than people think, as you can probably tell. I — well, when the cop started turning around and yelling, “Get back, get back,” it’s kind of hard not to turn around and see what’s going on.
I saw a bunch of them coming down 18 behind me. You could kind of feel it, too. I’m sure it turned out to be a cool picture if somebody got it.
Q. You mentioned you were looking at the scoreboard all round long. Is that something you always do, and why?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I’ve always done it. I feel it’s important to kind of know where you’re at, know where you stand, especially with a 7-shot lead. You want to know what you have to do coming down. And sometimes, even when it was going sideways, you know, there’s still a sense of relief that you have a 1-, 2-shot lead, you can definitely feed off that.
You know, I’ve earned the right to struggle a little bit. I’ve played so well, I can afford to struggle a little bit and get it and I’m just one hole closer to being done. That’s just how I kept looking at it. All I needed was one solid hole, one birdie I thought coming in would kind of slam the door home.
Q. I appreciate the defense of your U.S. Open title comes first, but how much have you spoken about The Open, given your caddie’s Portrush connections and how much of an advantage can he be for you there?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I mean, he knows the golf course. I mean, he grew up two minutes from there. So he knows the golf course. He should know where to hit it. I’m excited to get over there. I’ve never actually been to Ireland. That’s one place I’ve never been, which is shocking, because I’ve been all over the world. That’s one place I’ve never been, so I’m looking forward to going.
It will be special for him. It will be special for me. I’m sure he’s going to have his family, his mom and dad will be out there. I think he’s staying with them that week. So it will be — I think everybody in Ireland has been waiting for this for a long time, so it will be very special.
Q. Obviously you’re mentally stronger than anybody probably, but was there anything out there in your own reactions mentally that surprised you today?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I don’t think so. I mean, I probably have to go back and watch tape from 11 to 14 to see what — I felt like my body language was fine. 14 was just one of those things that happens. The wind dies and kind of stays below the trees and sails over.
The rest of the holes, I was in the rough. I was in bad positions to start. I feel like I was going to — from the second I left the tee box, it was, okay, how do I make sure I make bogey at worst. You know, I did that.
It was definitely disappointing at the time walking off 14, but you’ve got to right the ship eventually and try to stay mentally strong and just know, you know, I’ve got a lead and I need to somehow figure out how to get this into 18.
Q. Earlier this week, you said that you feel like you have to manufacture a little chip on your shoulder. Do you still feel like you need that chip, and if so, how do you keep that chip after a fourth major?
BROOKS KOEPKA: There’s always a chip. I think every great athlete always has a chip, whether it be somebody saying you can’t do something — it doesn’t matter. I feel like you look at Michael Jordan or — I’ve heard him talk about having a chip on his shoulder, and I think that’s important.
It works for me. Why would I stray from that? It’s one of those things that it doesn’t need to come from anybody. It can come from me. I can make something up in my own head and tell myself I can’t get to 10 or more, and I’m trying to prove myself wrong. It doesn’t need to come from the outside. I can do it internally, too.
Q. Two-part question, if that’s okay. Once you get home and you look through messages and stuff, is there one guy or girl outside of golf that you are hoping gets in touch with you to congratulate you?
BROOKS KOEPKA: Everybody really close to me is here. That’s all. I know — I don’t know, my best friend is supposed to be here. I don’t know — they had a baseball game. I don’t know if they won — I’m assuming they won the first game, so they are on to regionals. So he’s driving here now.
But I just want to see him. Everybody important to me is here. Text message is great, but you know, my true group, small circle is here.
Q. If you think about your two Long Island wins, you won from behind and you’ve won with a big lead. Which is actually the harder of the two to do: Win from behind or win with a big lead?
BROOKS KOEPKA: That’s a good question. It’s definitely different. It’s different — it’s something I’ve never experienced. Maybe I think playing with a lead is a little bit tougher. It’s easier in the sense of you know that you can afford mistakes, and you’ve just got to stay mentally sharp. I think you have to be sharper mentally when you have such a big lead that you still have to set goals. You still have to, okay, I still need to go out and go play, and I felt like I did a good job of that the first ten holes. I don’t know if I just mentally slipped for a couple holes or what.
But I think playing with the lead is a different feeling. It is. It’s very difficult. You want to extend it. But also, you’re not trying to — you’re not trying to come back to the field, so every time you make a bogey, you’re kind of thinking, I’m bringing everybody back, I’m bringing everybody back; I keep coming back, why am I doing this, what’s going on.
I don’t want to say it’s a panic, but it’s definitely a shock when you make a couple, and like the first hole, you know, I make bogey and Harold makes birdie and all of a sudden it goes to five, and I’m like, whoa, you got yourself a ballgame just after one. Five shots in 17 holes is definitely doable.
Q. And so after leaking oil a little bit down the stretch, is the satisfaction from how difficult this course was and that it was really survival of the fittest at the end, and is there kind of a satisfaction from last man standing, so to speak?
BROOKS KOEPKA: Yeah, there’s a lot of satisfaction for what happened today. This was, by far, the most stressful. I didn’t think Shinnecock was this stressful. I mean, it played so hard today, and these fairways, I don’t know, 20, 25 yards wide; I didn’t drive it good. Didn’t give myself very many chances from the tee, and you do that at Bethpage, you’re in for a long day, and I was.
I’m just glad, like I said, I’m glad I’ve got this thing sitting next to me. It’s very satisfying this one. This is definitely the most satisfying of all the ones I’ve won.
Q. Do you think as you win more majors, you may only get excited at majors from now on? Like is it going to be hard to fire up for regular Tour events?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I mean, I’m trying. I’m trying my best. We were actually talking about this the other day. I finished second nine times, and every time I feel like I’ve finished second, I’ve run into a buzzsaw.
Honda this year, Keith played a fantastic 18th hole. I played solid. Very pleased.
Rod Pampling beat me in Vegas. Played unbelievable. I played great there.
I mean, I’ve played great a lot of times. I’ve just finished second so many times. I think that’s — second sucks, but I’ve played good every time. So I need to take it over to regular Tour events and start winning there, too. There’s no reason I can’t.
Q. Since you’ve been so good at using slights or disrespect in your career, I wonder what the most disrespected or slighted you’ve ever felt in your career as an athlete was.
BROOKS KOEPKA: Telling me I wasn’t tough. That pissed me off. That really pissed me off.
Q. When was that? Who told you that you weren’t tough?
BROOKS KOEPKA: I think we all know.
Q. It looked like right before you walked to the first tee box today, you were texting somebody or sending a message or something. Who were you texting and what were you saying?
BROOKS KOEPKA: Probably my group of boys that are here, my friends. I probably just told them I’ll see them out there. I think I was asking where they were, and I just told them to shout something that only I would know. So it was easy to find them on 1.
Q. What do you think about Bethpage as a Ryder Cup venue? What do you think it’s going to be like when it comes here in a few years?
BROOKS KOEPKA: We’ve actually talked about this a lot during the week. It was — good luck to Europe with the fans. This is — I can’t wait to play it. I hope I’m on the team. If not, I just want to be here.
It’s going to be very special. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I can’t wait to play it. I’m excited already thinking about it. This is one hell of a place to play Ryder Cup.
Q. You said if you had actually lost the lead, that you would have left being okay with it because you knew you tried your hardest. I wonder what you think it is about your personality that allows to you kind of have that disposition? Most people would probably have a personal meltdown.
BROOKS KOEPKA: I’m not trying to lose. I’m not trying to finish second. I’m trying to win.
You know, it doesn’t — I’m trying to give as much effort as I can out there. I’m trying to win a golf tournament. You know, if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. It’s not going to crush me. It’s not going to be the end of the world. It’s just one golf tournament.
I’m not concerned. I know people think, you know, you’re going to go mentally break down and go off, but that’s not me. Yeah, I probably would have — we kind of have this thing where if I’m pissed off after a round, it’s usually about five minutes, and just leave me alone for about five minutes. Let me cool off. Let me have my me time by my locker or whatever, and from there, I’m usually fine.
I mean, I get to play golf for a living. That’s not that stressful.