ROCHESTER, N.Y. — On July 13, 1968, Gary Player won his fifth major, the 97th Open Championship at Carnoustie. Since Player raised the fifth of what would eventually be nine trophies representing the biggest championships in golf, 20,035 days have elapsed — nearly 55 years. Only seven of those days (0.03% of them) have ended with a men’s golfer winning his fifth major championship.
Today was one of those seven days.
True history is made so rarely in golf. The sport mostly involves a factory of unknown, unrecognizable players plodding along at a variety of mostly meaningless events. The harsh reality of golf is that it mostly happens in obscurity, documented by nothing but scores and finishes and sometimes money.
Millions of professional golf shots are hit every year, and the overwhelming majority — in fact, nearly all of them — do not matter whatsoever.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, though, is this truth: All 271 shots Brooks Koepka hit this week at the 2023 PGA Championship go directly into the canon.
That’s because, with his victory by two strokes over Viktor Hovland and Scottie Scheffler, Koepka joined a comically good (and short) list. Since that Open won by Player those 55 years ago, only six men had won a fifth major: Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Nick Faldo, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Seve Ballesteros. Now, you can count Koepka among them.
Fifty-five years — over 200 major championships — and only seven times has a player won a fifth. And we were fortunate enough to watch one of those unlikelihoods unfold Sunday afternoon at Oak Hill Country Club.
At 2:29 ET, Koepka ambled as only he can amble to the first tee; he shook Viktor Hovland’s hand, reminding him of the one-stroke lead he held entering the final 18 holes. It was the same spot Koepka found himself in back in April when he led eventual 2023 Masters champion Jon Rahm by two and then took three hooks and a devastating knockout blow to the face over the next nine holes.
It was that loss Koepka referenced nearly every day this week as he claimed to have learned a massive lesson at Augusta National, promising he would not fail if faced with a similar opportunity again.
Fail he did not. Instead, he just delivered.
Koepka birdied three of the first four holes while trying to put Hovland away as early as he could.
Curiously, though, he did not. Bogeys at Nos. 6-7 left the tournament in doubt as Hovland held on for dear life with Koepka rocking hard. For all of Koepka’s preening, it is not without foundation; his flurries hit the Norwegian like a load of bricks. Hovland withstood the sequence and somehow stood on the 12th tee box within one and very much alive.
But Koepka kept coming.
He unleashed another of his tournament-leading 18 birdies (seven on Sunday alone) at the 12th, and Hovland wobbled just a bit. The tournament found its soul over 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 grilled onions wafting and the gallery closing quickly, Hovland poured in a birdie and took a harsh step as it fell. Toward the hole or toward his opponent, the recipient didn’t matter because the message was quite clear: All majors are hard to win, but I’m going to make this one the toughest of them all for you.
Koepka had 10 feet for par to keep a narrow lead of one. Facing away from the biggest amphitheater at the venue and looking back down the throat of the green, chaos climbed around him.
Club pro Michael Block had just flown his ace into the cup on No. 15, and his was the only name that mattered
So Koepka stood over it with the blimp whirring overhead and the tournament teetering under his feet. It’s impossible for that many people to be that silent for that long, but nary a word was spoken. If not for the blimp, you might have been able to hear his beating heart.
Koepka eventually hit his drippiest putt of the day; it never left the heart. His response to Hovland’s shot: You will never take this lead.
Hovland never did. They both birdied No. 14 and both parred No. 15 before Hovland slammed one into the face of the bunker on the 16th.
You certainly saw the rest.
They ambled home over the final 30 minutes, and the only question for the engraver was what number to write next to Koepka’s name. Nine was ultimately the answer. It might also be Koepka’s future major total.
Everyone focuses on fist pumps and swings, perhaps words and mannerisms. I want to talk about the walk.
When you attend a golf tournament and follow players on the course, 99% of that time is spent watching them walk. You can often call out a name seeing a stride from a hundred yards away. Rory McIlroy’s bounce. Phil Mickeslon’s elongated stride. Max Homa’s head-bobbing lean straight ahead. Dustin Johnson, it was once written, evokes the oily gait of a jungle cat.
Koepka’s gait is often tough to pin. He walks like he believes a true jock should walk — with swagger and athleticism. But it runs deeper than that. He doesn’t particularly strut, and he’s certainly not prancing.
No, Brooks Koepka walks like he’s trying to spin the Earth a bit with each step. It’s not a particularly quick stride, but it is deliberate. He walks as if he knows you know he’s aware you’re watching him. He walks like a man who believes each step could be the only one you’ll see and that memory is what you’ll take when you tell your friends about him.
He said he thinks about it.
“I’ve got to start walking slower [in these situations] because my stride just wants to keep going,” Koepka said. “Want to be the first one to the ball and hit it and just play the quickest round of golf ever.”
Plenty will tell their friends and their kids and perhaps their grandkids about watching Brooks Koepka walk. From one hole to another. From one major to the next.
He broke a four-major tie with McIlroy on Sunday and now stands as the clear-cut generational major champion. In doing so, he walked right into history Sunday. When asked about pushing the all-time five-major club from 19 to 20 (those other 13 won their fifth before 1968), Koepka didn’t know who he joined. Fair enough. Five men in the crew finished winning before the Great Depression. Everyone else goes by one name in this world.
- Jack Nicklaus: 18
- Tiger Woods: 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” no longer necessary. When you reach into this ether, you only need one name.
The more majors you win, the fewer monikers you need. And five majors is so many. Perhaps it will be the most of anyone in the post-Tiger and Phil era for another dozen years or more. Remember, over the prior 20,035 days, only six men had cracked the code before Brooks made it seven on Sunday.
How rare is this specific kind of history? As rare as the men who make it.
“It’s crazy,” said Koepka, who is not necessarily a student of the game but was nevertheless overwhelmed by the feat. “I try not to think of it right now. I mean, I do care about [history]. It’s just tough to really grasp the situation kind of while you’re still in it, I think.
“Probably when I’m retired and I can look back with [wife] Jena and my son and kind of reflect on all that stuff, that will be truly 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 looks prepared to turn those dials, too.
Say what you want about the five-time champion — if the Rochester crowds are any indication, people definitely will — but there is no questioning 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 over 150 years of golf. Twenty.
It’s so few. Five is so many.
Brooks is so 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 & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.