ST. LOUIS – The Tiger Babies – the next generation of stars who grew up with their idol and her childhood hero – finally got their shot on Sunday at the PGA Championship.
No surprise, it was Brooks Koepka who took the challenge.
As the Bellerive Country Club rocked and the sunburned and delirious fans dashed down the hills to see Woods & # 39; s unbelievable power at number 15, Koepka played some of the most intrepid, undaunted and uncompromising golfing of his career.
In front of the largest crowds he had ever seen, Koepka made five birdies over his last 13 holes, calmed down the pro-tiger crowd, finished a tournament record and took the PGA with two strokes over Woods in the kind of macho performance that came is to define his ascending career.
"How many guys will ever say they faced Tiger in a major?" Said Claude Harmon III, Koepka's swing coach. "I think he was very excited about this opportunity today, and it's something he would like to have, and I think it defines your career to be able to say that you've made progress with Tiger, and that's as close as anyone for a long time. "
For a player whose team is routinely annoyed about his lack of media presence, Koepka can no longer be hidden – his name is at the top of the ladder.
In the first six Grand Slam performances Koepka has three great titles in the best years. At the age of 28, he is already a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame.
He is the fourth player to win the US Open and PGA in the same season, joining an illustrious group known only by one name: Sarazen. Nicklaus. Forest.
Especially for a player with just one PGA Tour win, it's fine.
"He comes to these things to prove something," said Harmon, "because he wants to prove to everyone that he is a great player."
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On the 100th birthday of the PGA, Koepka provided a preview of what's coming in the next 100 years – a smash-mouth style, played by a 6-foot, 215-pound, swaggering jock that's 225 pounds as often as the Free security exchanges prospects in combining the NFL.
This aggressive brand of golf should whip the crowds into a frenzy. After all, even non-golf fans can not wait to line up behind Dustin Johnson and watch him rise and scream into the stratosphere. Johnson shows all the emotions of the Queen's Guard, but he is undeniably one of the most popular players on the tour. Koepka does not have this crossover appeal – he's just cracking the top 5 most popular athletes sponsored by Nike – and it's not immediately clear why.
It's almost as if fans and the entire golf world are looking at him as he seems to think it is – with casual interest. In interviews, he is often mentioned that he is not a golf nerd, that he does not watch TV when he is not playing, and that he is only interested in collecting trophies. Koepka does not seek any of the attentions associated with one of the King Kings of the Gulf – one of his favorite words is "chill" – but he longs for recognition for what he has achieved. That creates a conflict.
"I do not know why that is because he deserves all the credit in the world," said 19-year-old tour veteran Charles Howell III. "You look at the guy and he's built like Adonis, the ground shakes as he strikes his driver, he does it well, he has a great way around him, where he's not confused by anything, if that's the feeling This will change pretty quickly here. "
Even if Koepka does not hope because he has spent his entire career blaming the doubters.
As a junior, he was upset that he was not recruited from Florida. After he had already committed himself to the rival Florida State, the then coach of the Gators, Buddy Alexander pushed on the track of the junior team of the United States to miss Koepka a slap. "I told him to remember," his father Bob said. "Because he was watching Brooks and he was recruiting other children he was beating all the time, and every time he played the Gators he wanted to kick their asses – to show them that they had made a mistake, not to do it recruit. "
Four years later, when Koepka developed into a three-time first-team All-American in Florida State, a handful of agencies gave a presentation in the office of head coach Trey Jones. Most agents offered more money or other options, but no guaranteed tournaments. Too risky, they said. Koepka chose the only company that told him that they could start a few starts on the Challenge Tour.
"He wanted to put on himself again," said Jones. "Everything he did, he created himself."
Koepka continued to search for chips, which he threw on his chiseled shoulders as soon as he came to the professionals.
After bombing the Q-School here in the States, he packed his bags and climbed the ladder in Europe. He became a prolific winner and secured his PGA Tour card.
When he arrived as a top 50 player, his coaches only knew how to press the buttons. In one of the practice rounds before the US Open in 2017, his short-game coach Pete Cowen began putting him in – as he was not good at, as he would never win a major. It was only the encouragement that Koepka needed. At the end of the week he set a tournament record.
"Anyone who tells me that I can not do something," he said, "I can not wait to prove the opposite."
But even this US Open title was skeptical, as if it was his fault that the wind died and Erin Hills had no defense. Nevertheless, he supported this year in Shinnecock Hills, but not before noticing that his name had been removed from the notabel page on one of the early round lists.
"He does not do that externally," said Bob Koepka, "but he uses it as energy and fuel to motivate himself, and the best way to calm someone is to beat him, you do not have to tell them that you're good, beat them again and again and they'll tell everyone else that you're good. "
What culminated with this tour de force at the PGA, where Koepka Woods and the best main ranking list of the year kept an eye on.
Last week at Firestone, Koepka said he had hit the ball better than in recent months – better even than in his two Open Wins – but he swiped as if he had blindfolded. He was fifth, but his ball hit him with confidence, so much so that he said he would have given himself 10-1 chances to win this week against the strongest field in the main golf. (Vegas was a little less optimistic at 20-1.)
Even after discovering a crack in his old model, Koepka licked his bite at Bellerive. Traditionally, the Parkland-style course has been preferred from right to left, as 13 of the holes sweep in that direction. But Koepka did not play the shots that architect Robert Trent Jones imagined. Instead, he aimed at the left side and hammered a cut about the dogleg.
"The way the game is played now, it will continue to have chances, unless they change the rules of the sport," said Harmon. "He's just beginning to scratch the surface of his blanket, he can do things that others can not."
This did not prevent Koepka and his team from looking long and hard for a few signs of disrespect.
After a 69-opening, which left him on the 32nd place, waiting in the co-area no media representatives on Koepka. Puffing the next morning, he said to Harmon, "I bet they'll interview me this afternoon after I went out and shot a low number." In fact, he has a PGA record with a 63 attached.
By the time he killed before the third round, he met a local Life Time Fitness with Johnson. Employees and visitors wanted to take all pictures of limping world no. 1; Koepka sat there, unnoticed and not amused.
In the finals, only one journalist followed Koepka for all 18 holes, while there were dozens walking every step with Woods. Harmon also noted how television cameras tracked every movement of Woods and often went 10 minutes without showing a shot from the last group. As he sat in the locker room, both Harmon and Adam Scott's manager followed the last lap on ShotLink, because that was at least in real time.
Naturally Koepka had hardly any problems with Woods within the ropes. All he had to do was listen.
The roar echoed in Bellerive.
"I think all but me and my team are looking for Tiger," Koepka said. "And they should."
The pandemonium that developed around him only fueled his competitive fire.
"It makes you improve your game," he said. "You have to, because you know he's right there when you fall."
After Koepka took an early lead, he ripped off three birdies in a row to close the first nine.
While Woods charges and the gallery digs openly for his opponent, Koepka once again proves he's an icy killer: he rolled 15 in a 10-foot shot and then hit a 247-yard laser – "probably one of the best shots "" I'll ever come under pressure "- to move 6 feet to 16 to make two shots and end all hopes of Wood's drought-busting.
The volunteers put up a red 16 next to Koepka's name on the rankings near the 17th green, and the fans who grabbed the bleachers groaned.
It was over.
Koepka finished with a 66 for a total of 16 under 264, the PGA rating of all time and binding the lowest 72-hole score in history.
"He's special, the way he played," Harmon said. "To have a fight with one of the greatest players of all time, it only shows how strong he is mentally and how good his game is to hit the blows he hit, he's a damn good player."
But he is still a player that fans do not have to embrace, and so the end Sunday was fitting. Koepka shunned the limelight on almost every occasion, declined the post-major media tours and even refused the chance to celebrate during the halftime of a Florida State football game. It is not his style. It was no surprise then that he did not bother to mark his 8 inch putt on the final green. With his coin in the eye of his game partner, he decided to finish it just as the crowd implored him to wait.
The doubters fell silent, now Koepka did not seem to need it – the roar, the flattery, the characteristic moment for his highlight role.
No, he prefers to take the trophy.