ST. LOUIS – Brooks Koepka is the fifth player to win both the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open in the same season. When you throw in his 2017 U.S. Open victory, that’s three major wins in 14 months.
Will Koepka finally get the respect that he feels he deserves with those accomplishments?
“I hope so,” he simply said, before looking away to answer a different question.
Koepka, 28, has used perceived disrespect as fuel as he’s blossomed into one of the best players on the PGA Tour. That was evident in another answer a few minutes later during his press conference following his 2-stroke win over Tiger Woods in the 100th PGA Championship.
“No. I don’t care what anyone else says,” Koepka said about anyone outside of his inner circle. “You’re always going to have fans and you’re always going to have people that hate you. The people around me, they know who I am and that’s really all I care about. I like to reach out to the fans and have support. I think it’s always great to have the support of fans and get as many people as you can behind you. … There’s always going to be people that hate you but you’ve just got to move on with it and use it as motivation.”
There was a lot of motivation available Sunday at Bellerive. Koepka entered the day two strokes ahead of anyone else. Tiger Woods was four strokes back. As Woods made moves on the front nine and pulled closer and closer, Koepka — and every other golfer on the course — took notice. There was one and only one fan favorite on Sunday.
“Everybody on the golf course heard it,” Koepka said about the cheers for Woods. “It was actually quite funny. You could hear the roars when you were on 10 and 11 and then you can kind of hear it trickle down as they change the leaderboards. All the way through you can hear a different roar every three seconds.
“So we knew what was going on and it was pretty obvious when Tiger makes a birdie, everybody at the golf course hears the roar.”
As Woods strode to the 10th tee box Sunday afternoon he had just pulled within a shot of Koepka. He stood a little taller and straighter. His face was expressionless and his eyes looked straight ahead, like he was looking at something no one else could see.
Koepka didn’t see that. He didn’t have to. He knew what was up. He was staring over a birdie putt on No. 8 when he heard the roars after Woods moved to 11-under with a birdie at No. 9. Had Koepka missed, he would have been just one stroke ahead of Woods.
He drained the putt for a two-shot lead. He hit another on No. 9 for a three-shot lead and a run of three-straight birdies. Koepka was thriving in the role of the foil.
“To birdie 7-8-9 was kind of a big momentum shift for me I felt like, especially with Tiger making that run at that same time,” Koepka said.
Koepka recalled attending the British Open as a kid and hearing the gallery reaction to Woods. While this was his first time dueling with Woods in a major, he understood that he was going to be playing the role of the foil, even as the tournament leader. And who knows, maybe he used that for motivation, too.
“Being a part of that as a fan, and even when you’re playing it’s still pretty neat,” Koepka said. “It kind of pushes you to step up your game and you have to, because he’s right there if you fold.”
Koepka opened the back nine with four pars to stay at 14-under, and another rival emerged. His playing partner Adam Scott made three birdies in that same stretch to pull into a tie for first. Meanwhile, Woods got to within a shot. And the roars got louder.
Koepka didn’t fold. He birdied No. 15 for a one-shot lead and then hit his tee-shot on the 237-yard par-3 16th to within seven feet.
“That’ll probably go down as one of the best shots I’ve ever hit under pressure,” Koepka said.
He made the birdie to move to 16-under and move two shots ahead of everyone else. That’s where he stayed, as Scott missed a birdie on 17.
As Koepka strolled towards that 17th green, the roars happened for a final time as Woods birdied No. 18 to finish at 14-under par. Koepka neared the green as the cheers for Woods ended. He got polite applause. There were no yells.
If Koepka keeps this up, the yells are on their way. His two major wins in 2018 are even more impressive when you consider he had just three attempts. He missed the Masters in April because of a wrist injury. He watched the tournament from home.
That time watching the Masters was, you guessed it, used as more motivation. Koepka said he was “down” while sitting on the couch at home watching the tournament.
“I’ve never been more focused, more driven, more excited to play and really embracing what’s around me,” Koepka said.
“I feel like I’ve done a very good job of that when I’ve come back, and I just need to keep that up because, obviously, it’s working.”
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.