FARMINGDALE, NY -- The box of things Brooks Koepka seems to care about in his life is rather small. Hopefully, history is not one of them because, on Friday at Bethpage Black, he set fire to a collection of old documents with the names of historically great golfers accomplishing previously unforeseen feats of strength. He flamed them, and then he wrote his name on the new document even as the silversmith in charge of the Wanamaker Trophy started wondering if you can copy-paste an engraving.
At the 2019 PGA Championship, Koepka currently holds the biggest post-World War II 36-hole lead at 12 under. It is also the largest since 1934 when gas cost $0.10 a gallon. After shooting a 12-under 128 over the first two days at Bethpage Black, he's up seven strokes on a pair of major champions and eight on another. He's up nine on the No. 2 player in the world and 10 on all but eight players in the field. Koepka backed up his 7-under 63 with a 5-under 65 on Friday; he sits a touchdown clear of Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott.
The only player since 1900 to lead a major by 7+ shots after 36 holes is Henry Cotton at the 1934 Open (led by 9). 1934 was Babe Ruth's last year with the Yankees.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) May 17, 2019
With history behind him and a snug 36-hole lead, Koepka headed to the driving range after his round because he wasn't comfortable with how he's hitting the golf ball.
This is nonsensical, of course. The data tells me what I already know: Nobody is hitting the golf ball better than Brooks Koepka is right now. He birdied four of his last six holes on Friday to hit that 128 total and has gained 17 strokes on the field through two days. What does all of that mean? Well, it means Koepka could probably shoot two rounds slightly over par on the weekend and still win this tournament, his fourth major.
Koepka spotted swing coach Claude Harmon III on his way to scoring.— Ryan Lavner (@RyanLavnerGC) May 17, 2019
“We’re going straight to the range. I’m not hitting it that good.”
He’s up by 7.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. First, let's discuss the 65 that backed up the 63. When Koepka started 3-3 on Friday with birdies at the first two holes, I became concerned they might cancel the tournament and save everybody the physio bills two days of golf at this place creates. Instead, Koepka played the rest of the front nine in 1 under and went 27 straight holes without a bogey. That ended on the par-4 10th after he hit his drive into the tall, thick grass up the right side.
Then Koepka tried to end the event himself, and he more or less did. It started with a birdie at the par-5 13th and continued with another one at the hardest hole on the course, the par-4 15th. He made another one at No. 16, and I called the fight. He could have played the last two in 1 over and still held the all-time 36-hole scoring record. He played them in even and broke the record by two.
Only one golfer has ever led a PGA Championship by more than four strokes at the halfway point -- Nick Price in 1994 when he led by five -- and Koepka did him two better. He was again brilliant from tee to green, and the thing that worried me on Thursday -- Koepka leaning on a hot putter -- was alleviated on Friday as he burned the field in a more sustainable way. Koepka was right at the field average with his flat stick. He didn't make a putt over 11 feet.
Brooks Koepka just shot 65 in a major championship and the longest putt he holed was 11 feet.— Sean Martin (@PGATOURSMartin) May 17, 2019
One of the many things Koepka has going for him this weekend is that this is not a traditional PGA Championship rife with ridiculously low scores and more birdies than a city zoo (even if Koepka has made it look that way). No, this is mighty Bethpage Black playing like a U.S. Open wrapped in PGA of America clothing. In 2009 at that U.S. Open, there were six golfers at 137 or better after 36 holes. This year, there are nine.
Koepka, who looks like Hercules and plays like (Ben) Hogan, has made a recent career of altering the past at major championships. He's the first golfer to shoot 63 in a major in consecutive years and just the third to shoot 63 more than once. Nobody had beaten a major field average by more than 10 strokes in a round in nearly a decade like Koepka did on Thursday.
Heck, he almost did it on Friday. He set a new 36-hole scoring record for the PGA Championship. Now, he has a chance to hold the PGA scoring record after all four rounds. He already holds or co-holds the 18-, 36- and 72-hole scoring records here, and now he needs a 67 in Round 3 to hold them all.
The astonishing part to me -- what has always been the most improbable part of Koepka and his career -- is how somebody that yoked can have the touch of a golfer half his stature. He obviously beats balls into oblivion (Koepka is second in driving this week), but it doesn't seem fair that the guy who can wind up 330-yard drives while yawning can also get up and down six of seven times at a slippery place like Bethpage.
Distribution of 36 hole leads in the last 40 majors + today— Jake Nichols (@jalnichols) May 17, 2019
The other four to lead by 5+ won by 7, 8, 8, and 4 shots
The one foothold golfers could hope for at this point would seem to be his mind, but that part of his game might be impenetrable as well. After Koepka made bogey (his second on the week) at the tough, long par-3 17th, he made his way to the 18th with Tiger Woods on his hip and the hole out in front of him. He pummeled one of the seven tee shots he's hit this week that haven't found fairway or green. Koepka was in the heavy stuff on the right side, but he hit a tumultuous approach to 11 feet and then sank his longest putt of the day as the sun set on his historic halfway mark.
Koepka had beaten a 15-time major winner by 17 strokes. He'd crushed an unbreakable course. And yet, he barely blinked, barely reacted. Apparently, he only thought about going to the range to work out the kinks in his swing. The field should hope they were not worked out.
So maybe it doesn't go his way over the next two days -- maybe he has a pair of 74s in him over the next 48 hours -- but it sure looks right now like Koepka is the only one capable of wrapping his thick arms around this mountain of a course and wresting it to the ground. He'll have worthy chasers in Spieth, Scott, Johnson and Rose, but give a three-time major champ nearly two strokes a side to play with on the rest of the field, and the outcome feels inevitable.
History, it seems, has already been re-written.