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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

Brooks Koepka proving he really is the real deal

Koepka came within a fraction of an inch of tying the best score anyone ever has shot at a major.

Brooks Koepka holds his ball on the ninth

Brooks Koepka holds his ball on the ninth green during the second round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Friday, Aug. 10, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) Photo Credit: AP/Brynn Anderson

ST. LOUIS

At this rate, Brooks Koepka is becoming his own worst enemy. He thrives on having people doubt him, but these days, who can possibly do that? The guy is too good.

Earlier in the week, he spoke of the flak he took for winning the 2017 U.S. Open at toothless Erin Hills and recalled that people once predicted he would be working at McDonald’s rather than playing on tour. He asserted that he is out to “prove everybody wrong.”

When someone called him on that, asking who the “everybody” is after he became the toast of golf by winning at Shinnecock Hills for a second consecutive Open title, he replied, “What am I supposed to say, ‘I’m satisfied with that?’ You want to keep adding to the list and keep progressing.”

Apologies in advance if this offends him, but he sure is one interesting dude, along with being one of the greatest golfers on Earth.

He proved the latter point again on Friday as he tied the PGA Championship record by shooting 63 (as did Charl Schwartzel a few minutes later). Koepka came within a fraction of an inch of tying the best score anyone ever has shot at a major. His birdie putt on his final hole, the par-4 ninth at Bellerive Country Club, buzzed the right edge.

“Well, I didn’t know,” he said about the brush with history. “I just was trying to make the thing and I really thought I made it.”

Not a problem. He finished the second round at 8 under par, in excellent position to contend for a third major title and move into a whole new orbit. Winning a third major would allow Koepka to share rare air with Tommy Armour, Julius Boros, Billy Casper, Jimmy Demaret and Hale Irwin. Better yet, a win this week would place him in the most elite golf company imaginable: The only others to have won the U.S. Open and PGA in the same year have been Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

“Yeah, it would be special. Any time you can win two majors in a year, that’s pretty unique, pretty special,” he said. “And especially from where I started the season.”

Koepka spent the spring on his couch with a hand injury so serious that he doubted he ever would be the same golfer again. It didn’t help his mood when hardly any of his peers texted or called. Plus, he still felt stung by criticism of his U.S. Open victory at the very easy Erin Hills. “We can only play what they give us. It’s not like we get to choose what golf course we want to play in every week,” he said.

He regained his health and recovered his love for the game. Having missed the Masters, he arrived at Shinnecock with greater focus and hunger than ever (the food prepared by his traveling party at majors is a reason he plays so well in the big events, he said). With a gutsy, classy finish and the two-in-a-row story line, he salvaged this year’s U.S. Open after a binge of players’ carping and U.S. Golf Association decisions that made the course too hard on Saturday and too easy on Sunday.

Koepka’s problem now: He is running out of people to discredit him. He was a mensch to the neighbors near his Southampton rental home, autographing the homemade “Go Brooks!” placards.

A few days ago, he gave one last shot to drumming up opposition. He is a baseball fanatic, so he was asked about his feelings about the Cardinals — for whom his great-uncle Dick Groat was a title-winning shortstop. “I know he played for the Cardinals, won a World Series with them,” Koepka said. With a mischievous smile, he added, “Other than that, I’m not a big Cardinals fan, to be honest. So I’ll leave it at that.”

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