ROCHESTER, NY — On July 13, 1968, Gary Player won his fifth major, the 97th Open Championship at Carnoustie. Since Player lifted the fifth of what would eventually be nine trophies that would represent golf’s most important championships, 20,035 days have passed, almost 55 years. Only seven of those days (0.03% of them) have ended with a male golfer winning his fifth major championship.
Today was one of those seven days.
True history is rarely made in golf. The sport primarily involves a factory of unknown and unrecognizable players plodding their way through a variety of mostly mindless events. The harsh reality of golf is that it mostly happens in the dark, documented by nothing more than scores and finals and sometimes money.
Millions of professional golf shots are taken each year, and the overwhelming majority, in fact, almost all of them – it does not matter at all.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, however, is this truth: The 271 shots Brooks Koepka made this week in the 2023 PGA Championship they go straight to canon.
That’s because, with his two-shot victory over Viktor Hovland and Scottie Scheffler, Koepka joined a comically good (and short) list. Since that Open won by Player 55 years ago, only six men had won a fifth major: Tom Watson, Lee Treviño, Nick Faldo, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Seve Ballesteros. Now, you can count Koepka among them.
Fifty-five years, more than 200 major championships, and only seven times has a player earned a fifth. And we were lucky enough to see one of those improbabilities play out on Sunday afternoon at Oak Hill Country Club.
At 2:29 ET, Koepka walked as only he can walk to the first tee; he shook hands with Viktor Hovland, reminding him of the one-shot advantage he had going into the final 18 holes. It was the same place Koepka found himself in April when he outpointed eventual 2023 Masters champion Jon Rahm by two and then took three hooks and a devastating knockout punch to the face over the next nine holes.
It was that loss that Koepka referenced almost every day this week as he claimed to have learned a huge lesson at Augusta National, vowing that he would not fail if faced with a similar opportunity again.
It did not fail. Instead, she just delivered.
Koepka birdied three of the first four holes as he tried to get Hovland away as soon as possible.
Though oddly enough he didn’t. The bogeys at numbers 6 and 7 left the tournament in doubt as Hovland took the life out of him with Koepka rocking hard. All of Koepka’s preening is not without foundation; the blasts from him hit the Norwegian like a load of bricks. Hovland withstood the sequence and somehow stood on the 12th tee inside one and very much alive.
But Koepka kept coming.
He unleashed another of his tournament-leading 18 birdies (seven on Sunday alone) on the 12th, and Hovland wobbled a bit. The tournament found his soul in the next 20 minutes.
Tournaments of this magnitude are often won at the most unlikely times, and Koepka took this one on the 13th green.
With the smell of roasting onions wafting and the gallery closing rapidly, Hovland birdied and took a sharp step as he fell. Towards the hole or towards his opponent, the addressee did not matter because the message was quite clear: All majors are hard to win, but I’m going to make this the hardest of all for you.
Koepka had 10 feet per par to hold a narrow one lead. With his back to the largest amphitheater on the site and looking back down the throat of the green, chaos engulfed him.
Club pro Michael Block had just blew his ace into the cup at No. 15and his was the only name that mattered
So Koepka stood over him with the airship whizzing over his head and the tournament tottering under his feet. It is impossible for so many people to remain silent for so long, but not a word was spoken. If it weren’t for the blimp, you might have been able to hear his heartbeat.
Koepka finally hit his best putt of the day; he never left the heart. His response to Hovland’s shot: You will never take this initiative.
Hovland never did. They both birdied the No. 14 and both made a par at the No. 15 before Hovland hit the bunker on the 16th.
I’m sure you saw the rest.
They ambled home for the last 30 minutes, the only question for the engraver being what number to write next to Koepka’s name. Nine was finally the answer. It could also be Koepka’s highest future total.
Everyone is focused on fist bumps and punches, maybe words and gestures. I want to talk about the walk.
When you attend a golf tournament and follow the players around the course, 99% of that time is spent watching them walk. Often, he can call out a name upon seeing a stride from a hundred yards away. Rory McIlroy’s rebound. Phil Mickeslon’s long stride. Max Homa’s bowed head leans forward. Dustin Johnson, once was writtenevokes the oily gait of a jungle cat.
Koepka’s gait is often hard to pin down. She walks like she believes a true athlete should walk, with swagger and athleticism. But it goes deeper than that. He’s not particularly strutting, and he’s certainly not prancing around.
No, Brooks Koepka walks like he’s trying to spin the Earth a little with each step. It’s not a particularly quick step, but it’s deliberate. He walks like he knows you know he’s aware you’re looking at him. He walks like a man who believes that each step may be the only one you will see and that memory is the one you will take with you when you tell your friends about him.
He said he thinks about it.
“I have to start walking slower (in these situations) because my pace just wants to keep going,” Koepka said. “I want to be the first to get to the ball and hit it and just play the fastest round of golf ever.”
Many will tell their friends, their children and perhaps their grandchildren about seeing Brooks Koepka walk. From one hole to another. From one major to the next.
He broke a tie at four majors with McIlroy on Sunday and now stands as the clear generational major champion. In doing so, he entered history directly on Sunday. When asked about boosting the all-time top five club from 19 to 20 (those other 13 won their fifth before 1968), Koepka didn’t know who he joined. That seems fine to me. Five men in the crew ended up winning before the Great Depression. Everyone else has a name in this world.
- Jack Nicklaus: 18
- tiger forest: 15
- Walter Hagen: 11
- Ben Hogan: 9
- Gary Player: 9
- Tom Watson: 8
- Harry Vardon: 7
- Bobby Jones: 7
- Gene Sarazen: 7
- Sam Snead: 7
- Arnold Palmer: 7
- Lee Trevino: 6
- Nick Faldo: 6
- Phil Mickelson: 6
- James Braid: 5
- Byron Nelson: 5
- Peter Thomson: 5
- Seve Ballesteros: 5
- Brooks Koepka: 5
Brooks is now among them, the “Koepka” is no longer needed. When you get to this ether, you only need a name.
The more titles you win, the fewer nicknames you’ll need. And five majors is as many. It’s probably the best thing anyone in the post-Tiger and Phil era has seen for another twelve years or more. Remember, over the previous 20,035 days, only six men had cracked the code before Brooks broke seven on Sunday.
How rare is this specific type of story? As rare as the men who do it.
“It’s crazy,” said Koepka, who isn’t necessarily a student of the game but was nonetheless overwhelmed by the feat. “I try not to think about it right now. I mean, I care about (the story). I think it’s hard to really understand the situation while you’re still in it.”
“Probably when I’m retired and I can look back on (wife) Jena and my son and reflect on all that stuff, that’s going to be really special. But right now, I’m trying to collect as many of these things as I can. We’ll see how it goes.” .
Fourteen men have won six, 11 have won seven and only six have won eight. Brooks seems poised to change those dials, too.
Say what you will about the five-time champion, if Rochester’s crowds are any indication, people definitely will, but there’s no mistaking this truth: Over the century and a half that major championship golf has been played, there have been few like him and even fewer better than him. And there will rarely be again.
Twenty men have won five or more majors in 150 years of golf. Twenty.
They are so few. Five is so many.
Brooks is great.
Brooks Koepka joins an elite group of players with five major championships. On CBS Sports HQ, Rick Gehman breaks it all down with Kyle Porter, Mark Immelman and Greg Ducharme. Follow and listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.