Brooks Koepka has retained his US PGA title in dramatic circumstances, but he didn’t have everything his own way. What did you make of it?
Brooks really showed his teeth on the final day. Everybody spoke about how tough Bethpage is and it was very difficult to hit the fairways when the winds whipped up to 20mph. The greens were starting to dry out, which was reflected in the scores.
However, the conditions on the final day helped Brooks, because he was clearly nervous despite his bravado after the tournament! Having a 7-stroke lead meant he essentially won the tournament in the first three days, when the scoring was kinder and the fairways were easier to hit.
Even in the final round, he knew that his opponents wouldn’t go low like Tommy Fleetwood at Shinnecock, so if he hung on and avoided a disaster like Harold Varner III, no one would catch him.
It was interesting viewing in a couple of ways. Firstly, spectators like to see the pros struggling, especially in Majors. Secondly, the New York crowd is difficult to play in front of, because they’re quite raucous. At times, it was difficult to watch, especially when they turned on Brooks. He did well to hold his nerve and get over the line.
When he bogeyed 4 holes in a row from the 11th, were you worried that he might throw it away?
No, I always felt that he would win because he’s capable of hitting a big drive on a fairway. I know he’s since come out and said he never doubted he would win, but even he must have had doubts when he stood on the 14th tee.
At that point, it was touch and go whether he would get over the line, but the pars on the 15th and 16th would have settled his nerves no end. We know he can finish it off, as we saw at Shinnecock last year.
It’s understandable he was nervous, because having a 7-shot lead is almost too big a cushion. It’s such a huge lead and it’s difficult to play your normal attacking game when you’re in this position.
Some people are asking whether Koepka is the next Tiger Woods. What do you make of these comparisons?
In modern terms, I don’t think there’s any golfer who is capable of matching Tiger Woods’ achievements. It’s unlikely that someone will win 15 Majors any time soon.
The best comparison you can make between Brooks and Tiger is in terms of Grand Slams. Brooks has got a really good chance of completing his career Grand Slam before Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth and he may end up winning more Majors than them.
He talks a good game, but he can back it up on the greens. He’s very much the modern golfer, in that he’s a powerful hitter and can hole putts under pressure.
It’s great for golf to have players like Brooks around. You look at players like Rory, Jordan, Jason Day, Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson, and they’re incredible to watch. Golf is definitely an easy sell at this moment in time!
Speaking of Dustin Johnson, he made a late surge and it looked like he could do it but then he dropped shots on the 16th and 17th. What did you make of his performance and what can he take heart from looking ahead to the rest of the year?
To be fair to Dustin, Bethpage is one of the most challenging courses you could play at in respect of a Major. He was always going to struggle to claw it back after Brooks raced into an unassailable lead.
The most impressive aspect of Dustin’s game is his consistency. He’s got a long, powerful game and he’s improved his short game. However, he missed a lot of putts on the 3rd round, which stopped him getting closer to Brooks.
I think he needs to win another Major to achieve his full potential. He’s underachieved given his ability – it’s all very well finishing runner-up, but he’s a better player than that.
He’s always in contention, though, and if he keeps doing that, he’ll give himself a chance. He finished T2 at the Masters and he was world number 1 for a long time. This shows he’s got the consistency, and hopefully it’s a matter of time before he adds another Major to his name.
With the US Open coming up at Pebble Beach, another golf course where he’s performed well in the past, you’d fancy his chances there.
Matt Wallace performed well, finishing T3. How pleased were you with his performance and what does it say about the work he’s been doing with fitness coach Steve McGregor?
It was a fantastic performance. It was great to see Matt push himself up the leaderboard in a Major and you’d expect him to have the confidence now to take his game to another level.
Steve McGregor has got good pedigree, having previously worked with Rory and Lee Westwood, and Matt is clearly reaping the benefits of working alongside him.
Matt is doing all the right things behind the scenes to keep himself in good shape and he’s only 29, so time is very much on his side. On top of this, he’s a great swinger of the ball, so he’s got the technical and physical attributes to push on from here. His performance at Bethpage is a step in the right direction.
Jordan Spieth has come out and said this is the best he’s felt in a while. Does his performance put to bed any talk of a slump after last year’s Open?
This could be a turning point for Jordan following some of his recent performances. He can take a lot of confidence from his T9 finish.
He’s obviously been working on his technique, which looks a lot better. He’s not losing the shot to the right as often – he was hitting some nice draws out there at Bethpage.
I don’t think he’ll ever get back to the way he putted in 2015 and 2016 or replicate his short game from 100 yards, which was on a whole other level to everyone else. However, if he can even putt 70-80% as well as he used to, and continue improving his technique, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with.
He’s been low on confidence and he has been in a bit of a slump, but this is a very important result for him and one which I think could turn his fortunes around.
By contrast, Justin Rose didn’t quite perform to the levels we know he’s capable of. What do you put this down to?
I think Justin is still suffering from what happened at the Masters. It must have been devastating for him to miss the cut, because he went into the tournament on good form and had a strong record at Augusta without winning. To miss the cut on a small field when you’re as good a golfer as Justin must have been very hard to take.
However, his scores at Bethpage weren’t bad, especially considering the course difficulty. He finished in the top 30, which obviously isn’t great by Justin’s standards, but at least he’s made the cut.
The secret to playing golf is to learn from something every time you play. In some ways, you learn more when you play poorly than you do when you play well. It’s not the end of the world to finish in the top 30 of a Major on a tough course and Justin has done well to bounce back and improve on his Masters standing.
It’s not like he’s played badly at Majors if you look back over the last few years and hopefully, he gets more confidence back when he plays at the US Open.
Tiger Woods also missed the cut, but are you maybe not surprised by this given that he’s not playing a competitive round since Augusta?
I’m not in the least bit surprised that Tiger didn’t play well, considering he played the first round with Brooks who’s at the top of his game.
Brooks was hitting it 30 yards past him off the tee and he started with a 63, on a course where we all felt it was virtually impossible to get that kind of score! Tiger must have been looking around thinking ‘What am I doing here?’.
Tiger didn’t give himself the best chance at Bethpage. The warning signs were there that he hadn’t played competitively since the Masters, and in the first round he only played nine holes.
He spent a lot of time in the rough and it’s fair to say Bethpage isn’t a course which was set up for his game.
Tiger will be more concerned about performing well at the US Open and the Open – I believe he’s already been to Northern Ireland for a practice round. Without sounding disrespectful, I think he’d written off the US PGA before the tournament started!
What was your highlight of the tournament and why?
It’s got to be Brooks’ first-round 63. As I said, we didn’t think there was a 63 at Bethpage.
There was a lot of press before the US PGA talking about how difficult it is to play there and that only very highly skilled golfers could take it on.
The course is set up to be the toughest ever. It’s very long, the par was reduced from 72 to 70, and the fairways were brought in. Nobody could have predicted that someone would score a 63 and for Brooks to achieve this in the manner that he did, playing with the Masters champion, was hugely impressive.