Brooks Koepka’s head was spinning.
“I was in shock” is how he would later describe the feeling.
In the span of an hour on Sunday, he squandered four shots from what seemed to be an insurmountable lead in the 101st PGA Championship.
Just as he was trying to collect himself behind the 14th green at Bethpage Black after a fourth straight bogey, he heard the chants.
“D-J! D-J! D-J!”
Dustin Johnson was playing two groups ahead, and Koepka had let his good friend back into the tournament. His seven-shot lead was now one.
Yet it was the fans in Koepka’s own gallery who turned on the man who’d given them a historic, spectacular show in the previous three days.
“I think I kind of deserved it,” Koepka would later say good-naturedly. “You’re going to rattle off four in a row and it looks like you’re going to lose it ... I’ve been to sporting events in New York. I know how it goes.”
That doesn’t mean he didn’t find a way to use it. Ever in need of a pebble or boulder – real or imagined -- to hoist onto his shoulder for motivation. Koepka once again stoked an inner fire.
“It was the perfect time,” he said, “because I was just thinking, ‘OK, all right. I’ve got everybody against me. Let’s go.’ ”
Koepka recovered with strong drives to make pars at 15 and 16, suffered a bogey at 17 – as did Johnson – and saved an impressive par from the deep rough at 18 to continue an unprecedented march in golf’s biggest events
In beating Johnson by two strokes, Koekpa scored a second straight triumph in the PGA Championship and became the first golfer in history to hold back-to-back titles in two majors at the same time. He has won consecutive U.S. Opens heading into next month’s tournament at Pebble Beach.
The 29-year-old Florida native also joined an exclusive club of only four men who have captured four majors in an eight-tournament span. The others: Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
“That was the most excited I’ve ever been in my life there on 18,” Koepka said of the rare emotional display of pumping his fist and sharing a long hug with his caddie, Ricky Elliott.
“Today was definitely the most satisfying out of all of them for how stressful that round was, how stressful D.J. made that.”
With a closing four-over-par 74 to post a final total of eight under, Koepka inflicted much of the distress on himself, though the week’s most blustery conditions certainly contributed.
Koepka missed the fairway each time to bogey 11 through 13, and powered his tee shot long at the par-3 14th for the fourth bogey.
“I can’t remember the last time I made four bogeys in a row,” Koepka said.
It was a stunning twist for the player who shot 63-65 in the first two rounds and made only four bogeys in the first three days of the tournament, while leading the field in driving and approaches to the green.
With a 69, Johnson did a decent job of applying some pressure by shooting three under on the front nine. When he birdied the 15th with an 11-foot putt, it stirred fans who thought they had come to watch a coronation, not a collapse that would have been the worst in PGA Tour history.
But Johnson, who now has three fewer major wins than Koepka despite 14 more regular tour titles, ultimately let them down. He overshot the 16th green from the middle of the fairway and went long again from the 17th tee.
“I challenge anybody to go play this golf course in 15- to 20-mile-an-hour winds and see what they shoot,” Koepka said. “D.J. played a hell of a round. That was pretty good. This golf course, it will test you for sure.”
In the 15th fairway, Koepka said he heard the groans when Johnson made bogey at 16, and he knew his cushion was back to two.
“It was definitely a test. I never thought about failing,” Koepka said. “I was trying my butt off. If I would have bogeyed all the way in, I still would have looked at it as I tried my hardest. That’s all I can do.
“Sometimes that’s all you’ve got. Even if I would have lost -- I guess you could say I choked it away -- I tried my tail off just to even make par and kind of right the ship.”
Unrecognized by most outside the golf world, even after winning three majors in a 13-month span, Koepka has used that to stay motivated. He admitted on Sunday that sometimes he concocts scenarios in his head to feel as if he’s the underdog.
It doesn’t sound like that’s going to change now that he’s done more than most players in history to put himself in the spotlight.
“There’s always a chip,” Koepka said. “I think every great athlete always has a chip, whether it be somebody saying you can’t do something -- it doesn’t matter. I feel like you look at Michael Jordan -- I’ve heard him talk about having a chip on his shoulder, and I think that’s important.
“It works for me. Why would I stray from that?”