Koepka walked out of Sunday’s brawl in South Korea without a scratch on him as he claimed THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES by four shots.
Just glancing at the leaderboard, which shows the reigning PGA TOUR Player of the Year closing with an 8-under 64 – including a 7-under 29 on the back nine to shoot 21 under – makes it appear this wasn’t a contest on Jeju Island.
Oh but it was. It’s just Koepka is fast developing the reputation as the clutch king. Give him a sniff of the trophy and you’re going to need a mighty effort to keep it from him.
In fact, sometimes a mighty effort won’t be enough.
Gary Woodland shot 63 on Sunday, joining the lead on a handful of occasions.
But Koepka – who had the pressure of the tournament and the fact he could claim world No. 1 status on his shoulders – answered with authority every time.
Earlier it had been Ian Poulter who applied a little heat. And then as Woodland made his move so too did Ryan Palmer, the Texan closing with seven straight birdies to post a number he thought might get Koepka thinking.
It got him thinking all right. It got him charged up. Motivated to respond. But he always felt like it was his tournament.
Having already landed a few heavy blows, Woodland went for a haymaker punch with birdie on 16 to tie the lead again.
Koepka absorbed it and fired one of his own back on 15.
“I always felt like I was in control, I felt like I was playing good and I felt like he played a great round, but I always felt like I was in control, which is a good feeling,” Koepka said.
We’d seen this fight before in 2018. Firstly at the U.S. Open as Tommy Fleetwood provided a birdie blitz at Shinnecock Hills but Koepka just held firm.
Then at the PGA Championship as a rejuvenated Tiger Woods and an emotion filled Adam Scott came after him on Sunday, Koepka answered the call. Almost robotic.
This is where Koepka has his fun. He craves the challenge. It allows him to dig into the well where he feels the golf world has slighted him.
The one where he’s not been given the credit he feels he deserves. He can make a statement.
“I’m not somebody that’s going to panic if things go the wrong way, pretty sure everybody can tell that,” he said.
“I just kind of hang in there, wait for my holes, I know I’m going to have some good looks and when I do, you’ve got to capitalize on them.”
While 15 was a critical punch, the 16th hole was the killer blow.
A poor drive into a bunker turned into a slightly hooked approach into the rough. Pressure and tension were surely building but Koepka not only recovered from the tough spot – he chipped in for birdie.
The roars were felt by Woodland, who would miss his par putt on 17 moments later. Forget the standing eight count, it was a knockout.
“I knew it was good when I hit it, I just didn’t know it was going to be in. For that to drop definitely felt like I had won the tournament right then and there,” Koepka said.
“Pressure is all what you put on yourself. Pressure comes from fear. If you start thinking about the result or what might happen if you do something, that’s the only time there’s pressure because if you get any of these guys out here on the driving range, they can all flag it.
“So I’m not thinking about what’s going to happen if I hit this shot or if I hit this close and make birdie here I can turn this into three birdies. I’m not thinking that. I’m just thinking, okay, how do I get it close to the flag or whatever I’m trying to aim it, get it there and then make the putt.”
His journey to the top of the world rankings though has been anything but.
This was his 12th victory worldwide, including four wins on the European Challenge Tour where he started his career.
He now has wins in seven countries – the U.S., South Korea, Spain, Italy, Japan, Turkey and Scotland.
Five of them are PGA TOUR wins. Three are major championships. Three of them have come in the last 11 starts.
Koepka has now won three of five times he has held the lead or co-lead after 54 holes.
The last three.
While this is just event three of a 46 event season, the win has him slated as an early favorite for the FedExCup. The win moved him to third on the standings, just 45 points behind leader Marc Leishman.
Since the three-event Asian swing has been in full effect the eventual season long champion started their quest with a win on the continent.
Justin Thomas won the CIMB Classic in the 2016-17 season before going on to claim the FedExCup and last season Justin Rose prevailed at the World Golf Championships – HSBC Champions in China.
Koepka heads to China now as the man with the target on his back.
“I just need to keep winning. I feel like to win a few more regular TOUR events and then keep adding majors. I feel like my game’s set up for that,” he says ominously.
“I’ve gotten so much confidence off winning those majors where it’s incredible every time I tee it up I feel like I really have a good chance to win whether I have my A-game or not.
“I’m so excited right now, you have no idea. I just can’t wait to go play again.”
It is arguably one of the few sports terms believed to be named after a person, and with ramifications beyond the border of a course and into politics and daily life.
You don’t have to be a golfer to enjoy the benefits of a Mulligan – the term is now widely used to describe any “do-over,” or second chance after initial failure.
Of course, the rules of golf forbid the Mulligan, though it’s become part of the game. Some golfers apply their own “rules” that the Mulligan will be in “play” once per round, or just on the No. 1 tee.
So, where and when did the Mulligan begin in golf? Well, that depends.
The USGA, and supported by research by GriffGolf.com, found the Mulligan became rooted in the game’s lexicon sometime between the late 1920s and mid-1930s. During that period, Canadian-born amateur David Bernard Mulligan had established himself as a prominent member of clubs that included Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, N.Y.
In the late 1920s, Mulligan had a regular club foursome, which he often drove to the course in a 1920s vintage Briscoe, a touring car.
Once on the first tee, the story goes, his partners allowed him to hit a second ball after mishitting his drive. Mulligan complained that his hands were still numb after driving rough roads and a bumpy Queen Victoria Jubilee Bridge (now Victoria Bridge).
Mulligan joined Winged Foot Golf Club sometime between 1932 and 1933. A generation later, in July 1985, journalist Don Mackintosh interviewed Mulligan for a column, “Around the Sport Circuit.”
Said Mulligan: “I was so provoked with myself that, on impulse, I stooped over and put down another ball. The other three looked at me with considerable puzzlement, and one of them asked, ‘What are you doing?’ ‘I’m taking a correction shot,’ I replied.”
His playing partner asked what he called that.
“Thinking fast, I told him that I called it a ‘Mulligan.’ They laughed and let me play a second ball. After the match, which Mulligan and Spindler won by one point, there was considerable discussion in the clubhouse about that free shot.
“It all worked out amicably enough, but after that it became an unwritten rule in our foursome that you could take an extra shot on the first tee if you weren’t satisfied with your original. Naturally, this was always referred to as ‘taking a Mulligan.’ From that beginning, I guess the practice spread, and the name with it.”
Such a tale appears to be on solid footing, though USGA research hints there’s wiggle room for another “Mulligan.”
John A. “Buddy” Mulligan, a locker room attendant in the 1930s at Essex Fells CC, N.J., would finish cleaning the locker room and, if no other members appeared, play a round with assistant professional, Dave O’Connell and a club member, Des Sullivan (later golf editor of The Newark Evening News).
One day, Mulligan’s opening tee shot was bad and he beseeched O’Connell and Sullivan to allow another shot since they “had been practicing all morning,” and he had not. After the round, Mulligan proudly exclaimed to the members in his locker room for months how he received an extra shot.
The members loved it and soon began giving themselves “Mulligans” in honor of Buddy Mulligan. Sullivan began using the term in his golf pieces in The Newark Evening News. NBC’s “Today Show” ran the story in 2005.
Thus, a “Mulligan” found its niche along in our culture. Its popularity thrives because of who we are – lovers of a good story and a term that somehow fits. It thrives as we are reminded in a classic line from the 1962 John Ford Western film, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”
“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
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