Self-controlled, head-down style major reason for Brooks Koepka’s rise

Tiger Woods did not win the 100th PGA Championship Sunday. It only seems that way.

Woods’ 14-under 266 was two strokes shy of winner Brooks Koepka, who staved off the pressure, the roars and the ominous shadow of the most imposing figure in the game to win his third major in the last 14 months.

For Koepka, the Jupiter resident, he wouldn’t want it any other way.

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Koepka, who was born in Wellington and attended Cardinal Newman High School, was built to win majors, even with a Tiger hunting him from behind. He is unflappable on a golf course. He doesn’t show emotion. There are no demonstrative fist pumps, no outbursts of frustration after slicing a driver into the woods.

Just a steely, laser-like look we now have seen three times in his last six starts at a major, including his victories in the last two U.S. Opens. Koepka missed this year’s Masters while recovering from a wrist injury.

Jack Nicklaus, a man who knows a thing or two about what it takes to win a major or two (or 18), recognizes that trait in Koepka. On Sunday, Nicklaus tweeted: “Calm. Collected. Confident. That is the description of (Koepka). He didn’t seem aware of anyone else on the golf course. That’s what you need to do in a major.”

Koepka never flinched Sunday at the Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, not with Woods or anybody else making a charge. Starting the final round with a two-stroke lead, Koepka never caved, not even when Adam Scott caught him and Woods pulled to within a stroke on the back nine. Koepka just responded with birdies on Nos. 15 and 16, calling his 4-iron at the 248-yard par 3 16th that rolled to within 6-feet of the stick one of the best shots he’s ever hit under pressure.

“Everybody on the golf course could hear it,” Koepka said Sunday. “You could hear it trickle down as they changed the scoreboards. You’d hear different roars every three seconds. It was pretty obvious when Tiger made a birdie.”

He later told the Golf Channel: “It didn’t affect me one bit.”

Despite becoming the fifth golfer to win the U.S. Open and PGA Championship in the same year — joining Gene Sarazen (1922), Ben Hogan (1948), Nicklaus (1980) and Woods (2000) — and joining Tom Watson, Nicklaus, Woods and Jordan Spieth as the only golfers to win three majors before turning 30, Koepka has been the sidebar to this story.

Surf the Internet and you will find a headline that reads: ‘Tiger Woods Is Back! (Also, Some Other Guy Won the PGA Championship).’ A New York tabloid featured a full back-page picture of Woods and the blaring headline: “Roar of the Crowd,” with a thumbnail photo of Koepka and a barely-able-to-read headline: “Tiger’s 64 is talk of PGA, but Koepka holds him off for title.”

Jim Furyk is the United States captain for next month’s Ryder Cup in Paris. Koepka tops the Ryder Cup points standings and has secured a spot on the team. Furyk held a news conference Monday and acknowledge the Tiger-mania that was happening Sunday.

“I was really bummed and disappointed,” he said, tongue in cheek. “I really wanted to see how Tiger was playing and I only got to see (on TV) every shot he hit.”

Furyk, though, reserved praise for Koepka.

“He carries himself with a swagger that everyone talks about,” Furyk said of the player who posted a 3-1-0 record in the USA’s victory in the 2016 Ryder Cup. “He’s a tough, fiery guy. He’s not going to back down. Great for this team, great for this atmosphere.”

This will only strengthen Koepka’s resolve and allow him to continue to play the disrespect card he has used as motivation while vaulting from his days on the Challenge Tour and European Tour to No. 2 in the World Golf Rankings behind Dustin Johnson.

A story circulated Saturday, after Koepka’s 66 pushed him into the lead, about his trip to the gym that morning and how fans swarmed Johnson, who was working out at the same time, with picture and autograph requests while Koepka quietly watched.

Remember, this also is a man who Tom Watson once mistook for a club pro.

“I use it as motivation,” Koepka said Saturday night.

Koepka’s charge now is to use it as motivation every week and not just for majors. While he becomes the 46th golfer with at least three majors, he has backed that up with just one other tour victory, the 2015 Phoenix Open.

“The fact I haven’t won more on the PGA tour is kind of my own fault,” Koepka told the Golf Channel. “When I get to the majors I switch it on and I need to be able to switch that on every week and the fact I haven’t done that is kind of a little bit disappointing, but I’m working on it.”

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