Brooks Koepka’s LIV major championship triumph turned golf on its head
Ah, 2023. The year everything changed … again. For the second straight year, we left 2023 with a drastically different perspective of professional golf than we entered. Now, as we look back at the year that was — with LIV major championships, Ryder Cup controversies and oh so many other stories — we’re remembering the 15 biggest moments that defined the year in golf. Let’s get digging.
Biggest Golf Moments of 2023 … No. 15: Viktor Hovland’s arrival | No. 14: Fowler, Day back in the winner’s circle | No. 13: Brian Harman’s Open rout | No. 12: The Michael Block Party | No. 11: Wyndham Clark’s breakout | No. 10: Lilia Vu’s rise | No. 9: LIV Golf’s OWGR snub | No. 8: The players regain control | No. 7: Ciganda’s Spanish Solheim triumph | No. 6: Tiger Woods’ 2023 return
Biggest Golf Moments of 2023 No. 5: Brooks Koepka’s PGA Championship triumph
On June 6, the day golf flipped on its head, there remained one prevailing question.
At that point, the PGA Tour had been mired in an existential battle with LIV Golf for the better part of a year, and things had not progressed very far from Tour commissioner Jay Monahan’s first proclamation of war. There had been no hint that the waters were warming; no sign that golf’s cold war could end soon. There had nary been a peep from the powers that be on both sides, who continued to rail against one another — both publicly and privately — right up until the landmark “framework agreement” was signed.
It’s possible we’ll never know what pushed Monahan over the edge and into negotiations with Yasir Al-Rumayyan, his counterpart at the Saudi Public Investment Fund. But it’s also possible the answer has been sitting in front of us the whole time. His name is Brooks Koepka.
After all, it was in late May, just days before the Framework Agreement was signed, that Koepka stunned the golf world at the PGA Championship. After a wild week and a Sunday battle with Viktor Hovland, Koepka emerged victorious at Oak Hill, winning his fifth major — the first for a LIV competitor.
The rift in golf had been obvious for some time, but Koepka’s victory solidified it. The perception of LIV as a place where old golfers went to die was quickly thrown out the window. The upstarts were here, and they were a force to be reckoned with. Hell, if another LIV competitor or two won a major, the upstarts might even take over the U.S. Ryder Cup team for kicks.
We’ll never know how Koepka’s victory changed the perception of his employers within the sport, but we do know what came after: an agreement that pushed golf towards peace. And as for Brooks himself? Well, the benefits were even more prodigious.
Yes, the years preceding Koepka’s week in Rochester were unkind both physically and mentally. He’d dealt with a variety of knee issues, undergoing surgeries and grueling rehabs only to produce excruciating (and lackluster) performances at golf’s majors. For the first time in the life of one of the most physically dominant stars of this era, some began to wonder if his star was fading.
Koepka’s departure to LIV Golf appeared to solidify this belief. At a time in which has-beens were flooding into the league for one last payday, Koepka was among the biggest to go. His decision appeared to foretell the end of his story — a slow but steady descent into golfing irrelevance.
But then he arrived at Smash GC and a funny thing happened: his body recovered. For the first time in years, he was able to swing without pain. He poured on early season wins at LIV events and strung together a brilliant — but ultimately unsuccessful — week at the Masters.
He arrived in Rochester his old self: swaggering, boisterous, and more than a little cocky. Asked if he’d like to share what he learned from his Masters disappointment at an early week press availability, Koepka revealed a competitor’s pugnaciousness.
“Not really, no,” he said, deadpan. “I’ll be honest. Yeah, I’ll keep that to myself.”
But when play began, there was no hiding his ferocity. Koepka dominated throughout most of play, riding a steady glide up the leaderboard in fierce conditions without so much as a moment’s hesitation. After an early flurry of scoring on Sunday morning threatened to displace him from the top of the leaderboard, Koepka responded with three birdies in his first four holes to put a stranglehold on the lead. With a relentless Viktor Hovland nipping at his heels all the way down the back nine, he never blinked.
He closed out a two-shot victory on the 18th hole, and his scowl folded into a grin. Brooks was back in the winner’s circle again.
He laughed among friends as he made the long walk from the 18th green back to the scorer’s tent, basking in the glow of a landscape-changing major championship. There would be time to sort out the big details of what the day meant later, but as he stood near the clubhouse, the big picture was right beneath the mile-wide smile, where Koepka’s hand extended to show the day’s most important development — his new number of major championships.