Brooks Koepka (PGA of America photo)
By Garrett Johnston
Brooks Koepka’s win Sunday at the 101st PGA Championship at Bethpage Black was an amazing moment in golf’s history as Koepka became the first player to ever win his first four majors in less than two years.
As the former FSU standout finished off his two-stroke victory over Dustin Johnson in New York, Trey Jones, his former golf coach at Florida State (who remains at the FSU helm) watched from Fayetteville, Ark. He he had just landed there in preparation for Monday’s NCAA Women’s Championships.
Jones had watched on his phone earlier in the day in Tallahassee and saw Koepka’s big lead, but by the time he landed in Arkansas, that lead was down to two, and it would drop to one after Koepka’s bogey at 14. In PGA Tour and major championship history, no one had ever surrendered a seven-shot lead. Koepka’s was seven to begin the day.
So what were Jones’ thoughts when he realized it was suddenly a close game?
“That’s golf, you never know what’s around the corner, you expect the unexpected, there’s just no way to plan on anything,” Jones said over the phone. “I think it got so hard for everybody you could tell, and that it was just added to it.”
Jones’ favorite moment from watching the last few holes was the moment the final putt dropped.
“I loved the fist pump at the end because I did several interviews today and everybody who asked me about Brooks had never seen him get excited, they’d never seen him do a hard first pump or anything and there it was,” Jones said.
Jones is well aware of the golf fans and those in the media who say Koepka adds to golf’s boring image, but he gave a nice rebuff to that.
“Everybody likes to say ‘he doesn’t care, he doesn’t like golf, he gets bored with it’, well you tell me that when you saw that fist pump,” Jones said.
Jones met Koepka when he was a sophomore in high school playing in a junior event in Myrtle Beach. The FSU head coach remembers horrible weather conditions, but Koepka, then a Cardinal Newman High School player, shot 43 on his front nine. He turned it around for a back-nine 35.
“Obviously there was a lot of fight in him,” Jones said.
A few years later, Koepka joined Jones’ golf team at FSU. Would the coach have believed it if someone had told him then that Koepka would go on to eventually win four majors in only eight starts over a two-year period?
“I don’t think there’s any player that’s that age that you would look at and know that as an 18 year old,” Jones said.
“I asked one of my closest friends, Mike Martin our baseball coach, the same thing about (FSU star) Buster Posey. ‘Did you see him being the face of baseball?’ And he said ‘How could you ever?’
“(Buster and Brooks) are two elite athletes and when the elite get challenged, they just continue to progress, and great things can happen.”
Jones saw a dominating performance from Koepka this week. Did it remind him of any of Koepka’s bigger moments while playing amateur golf for Jones’ Seminoles?
“There were a lot of those,” Jones said. “All through his career.
“Winning at our home golf tournament when he shot a 66 to come back and win, the player he was chasing was Chase Seiffert who finished seventh today on the Web.com Tour’s Knoxville News-Sentinel Open. You want inter-team rivalries and those guys definitely had a lot of pride.
“He made an 8 footer on the last hole at Riviera in the National Championships one year to get us a chance to get to the match-play portion and finish eighth. I just remember sitting there going ‘m=Man, I’ve got the right guy on the putter.’
“His freshman year he finished third in NCAA regionals and gave us a chance. The big stage of that, the NCAA for a freshman, didn’t faze him ever.”
And former teammate Ryan Savage was so confident Koepka would win this week’s PGA Championship after the Koepka’s hot start (opening 63), he made it clear to his former coach.
“The only question after round one was how many would he win by,” Jones said Savage told him.