BY SCOTT MICHAUX
ROCHESTER, NEW YORK | Brooks Koepka couldn’t sleep after the Masters. He tossed and turned all night and for days thereafter trying to figure out what went wrong when his two-shot 54-hole lead evaporated and Spain’s Jon Rahm slipped his arms into a green jacket that Koepka felt should have been his own.
“I won't do it again the rest of my career,” Koepka said of his lesson learned at Augusta.
Whatever “it” is remains a mystery. Koepka used the word “choke” to describe his Masters loss – a rather harsh self-assessment which he succinctly defined as, “If you have a lead and cough it up, that's choking.” But what he learned from choking remains a mystery. “I keep that to myself,” Koepka said.
It seems as if Koepka has discovered the secret. Presented the opportunity to “choke” again with a skinnier one-shot lead in the PGA Championship through 54 holes at Oak Hill, Koepka did not do it again.
He once again resembles the intense golfer who dominated the U.S. Open and PGA stages to the tune of back-to-back wins at each in the 2017-19 window before injuries left him in pain and sent him searching for LIV Golf’s guaranteed windfall of Saudi sugar daddies when he wondered whether he could ever be a world-beater again.
Koepka, 33, is a world-beater again, the biggest winner but not the only one at Oak Hill:
ACE: Michael Block. The club pro from Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, California, had himself a week. He not only made his first cut in seven major tries but got as high as second on the leaderboard Friday and gamely hung around with three consecutive 70s to pair with Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy on the weekend. Then he aced the 15th late Sunday to elicit the biggest roar in western New York. Block, who finished T15 to earn a spot in the 2024 PGA, exuded a casual cool all week, laughing off a shank on Friday and impressing during walk-and-talks with ESPN and CBS. Dreams don’t get that good.
BIRDIE: Viktor Hovland. The 25-year-old Norwegian is getting more comfortable in the crucible of majors. He looked lost playing in the final pairing with Rory McIlroy at the 150th Open, but he went toe-to-toe with Koepka at Oak Hill – until his bunker shot embedded in the face on 16 and led to a drama-ending double.
BOGEY: Rory McIlroy. He wasn’t feeling his best and didn’t have his A-game, but McIlroy simply made too many mistakes that added up to 14 costly bogeys. If he’d taken more advantage of his Oak Hill membership than playing only once, his course management might have been better.
BIRDIE: Scottie Scheffler. He’ll lament Saturday in the steady rain when nothing went right for him on a front-nine 39. But he’ll leave Rochester with positive vibes after a strong Sunday bounceback.
BOGEY: Phil Mickelson. Lefty is better when he lets his clubs do the talking, making the cut in his first PGA return since historic win at age 50 in 2021. But Phil’s ax-grinding – he confirmed speaking to DOJ – tarnishes his luster. “I guess it’s because I know some things that others don’t. I just want to make sure everyone is held accountable,” he said. When does the Billy Walters book come out?
BIRDIE: Kurt Kitayama and Cam Davis. Sunday record-tying 65s earned them T4 finishes and booked them in the 2024 Masters.
BIRDIE: Andrew Green. The architect got nothing but rave reviews for his thoughtful restoration of Oak Hill that brought the original Donald Ross elements back and erased the design malpractice that Robert Trent Jones and the Fazio cousins (Tom and George) had committed through the years. Just wait until the world sees his complete redesign of Congressional in the 2030 PGA.
BOGEY: Purse. The PGA of America upped its purse $2.5 million, to $17.5 million. The Masters was only $18 million. That means the majors are paying less than 12 PGA Tour designated events and all 14 LIV events this year. Do they still mean more when they pay less?
BIRDIE: Size matters. PGA Championship rebranding is a tradition unlike any other. (See what I did there?) Its slogan went from the catchy “glory’s last shot” to the banal “season’s last major” in 2013. The move to May forced another change, and the PGA of America has settled on “the biggest trophy in golf.” At 28 inches tall and nearly as wide from handle to handle, the 27-pound Wanamaker Trophy is inarguably the biggest. Whether it’s the biggest prize is subjective.
BIRDIE: Eric Cole. The last man into the field as an alternate, the son of touring pros Laura Baugh and Bobby Cole finished T15 and continued the feel-good journey of the season from journeyman 56-time mini-tour winner to 34-year-old rookie star on PGA Tour.
BOGEY: Tom Kim. The young Korean’s mud bath and striptease on the sixth hole Thursday became a viral video sensation and will forever link him to Oak Hill’s Allens Creek the way Jean Van de Velde is to Carnoustie’s Barry Burn. At least he missed the cut and didn’t blow a three-shot lead on the last hole to lose a major. “I miss the days that I played on a tour without cameras,” Kim told SkySports after buckling over laughing when he found out the whole world saw his creek encounter.
BIRDIE: Zach Johnson. The U.S. Ryder Cup captain made the cut, but his bigger news was announcing plans to take his 12-man team on an advance scouting trip to Marco Simone in Rome. That Koepka and Dustin Johnson expressed keen interest in being part of that squad gives Zach way more options than Europe’s Luke Donald.
PAR: Brooks & Bryson. Remember when this feud was the biggest story in golf? Their third-round pairing as contenders would have melted the Internet two years ago. Now Koepka and DeChambeau are just another LIV buddy team. There was no drama – really no interaction, as with most Koepka pairings.
BIRDIE: LIV. Eleven of the 16 LIV golfers in the field made the cut, including LIV’s resident doormat Sihwan Kim, who hasn’t finished better than 43rd of 48 in six LIV starts this year.
BOGEY: Jason Day. Fresh off burying his five-year winless drought at the AT&T Byron Nelson, the 2015 PGA champ chose to play zero practice rounds before teeing off at Oak Hill. “If I come in tomorrow tired and exhausted, it won't do me any favors,” he said. His blind approach did him no favors either as he missed the cut.
BIRDIE: Thomas Pieters. The Belgian golfer is the highest-ranked LIV defector still eligible to potentially get picked by captain Luke Donald for the Ryder Cup in September. He went 4-1 in his only previous Ryder Cup, at Hazeltine in 2016, and participated in January’s Hero Cup. Making his second major cut of the year, Pieters had a solid T40 effort at Oak Hill that didn’t hurt his cause.
BOGEY: Talor Gooch. Desperately needing a strong result to move back into the top 60 of the Official World Golf Ranking and book a spot in the U.S. Open, LIV’s leading points earner whiffed with rounds of 76-74 to miss the cut. Unless he shines at Hoylake, the Open Championship could be his last major exemption without going through qualifying.
BIRDIE: Canada. The border crossing at Niagara Falls is only 90 miles from Oak Hill, and Tim Hortons restaurants are scattered all over Rochester, so the Canadians felt right at home and at one point had four players at par or better. Corey Conners was the star, tying for ninth.
BIRDIE: Top 100. Say what you will about where the PGA ranks in golf’s major pecking order, but it delivered the strongest field in the world last week with 99 of the top 100 OWGR players in the field (only injured Will Zalatoris was absent).
BIRDIE: May. While the spring date on the schedule might rule out some classic Northeast venues (including Oak Hill) in the future, the PGA has proved to be a better fit in May. The major cadence works, and there’s less burnout in the burning heat of August.
BIRDIE: Steve Szurlej. The 73-year-old senior staff photographer for more than 30 years at Golf Digest was honored as the third recipient of the PGA of America Lifetime Achievement Award in Photojournalism in the clubhouse at Oak Hill. One of his most memorable snaps was Tiger Woods’ celebration after a parabolic chip-in on the 16th hole at Augusta en route to winning the 2005 Masters. “I had several frames ruined by raised arms, but only needed one,” Szurlej said.
BIRDIE: Josh Allen. The Buffalo Bills quarterback was on hand all week watching the golf. He attended the Masters in April and plans to complete his own personal slam by traveling to the U.S. Open in Los Angeles and Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.
BOGEY: Slow play. Players can take forever to putt and never get penalized, but Lee Hodges got dinged a stroke for waiting longer than 10 seconds for his ball to fall into the cup for what should have been a birdie on the 17th hole Saturday. Close-up video showed the ball was still moving over the edge of the hole before finally dropping, but since Hodges walked up to his ball too quickly he violated Rule 13.3a.
BIRDIE: John Paramor. Gone but not forgotten. The PGA of America produced a lapel pin with the initials “JP” on it in memory of the late Paramor, a much-loved, highly respected and widely traveled rules official from the DP World Tour.
BOGEY: Yammering. Not everyone loves clowns. ESPN’s many streaming options greatly enhance the coverage, but does anyone really want to listen to the No Laying Up crew or Matty and the Caddie (with Matt Barrie and resident former caddie/comedian Michael Collins) talk incessantly over the broadcast?
BIRDIE: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. Garbage plates might be Rochester’s most notable “gift” to cuisine, but no trip to western New York is complete without a meal at a Dino BBQ. It may have originated in nearby Syracuse, but its downtown Rochester location offered maybe the best smoked meats north of the Mason-Dixon line.
Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images