The boisterous New York crowds at Bethpage Black Golf Course were a storyline all week as players publicly lauded their outspoken nature.
However, as things got tight down the stretch on Sunday, the crowds seemed to turn on Brooks Koepka after the defending champion’s seven-stroke lead was cut to two following four consecutive bogeys on holes 11 to 14.
All the while, Koepka’s playing partner, Harold Varner III, was having a nightmare of a day, shooting 6-over par 41 on the front nine to bow out of contention. With the championship all of the sudden back up for grabs, Varner III relayed that the crowds crossed a line as Koepka struggled.
“It’s a pretty crazy day. I thought it was pretty weird how they were telling Brooks to choke,” Varner III said after the round. “That’s not my cup of tea. I was pulling for him after that. I have a few choice words for that.
“On 14, the par 3. I thought that was just, you know, just cheering for him to do bad, I just don’t get that.”
Wow. LOUD cheers and ‘DJ’ chants breaking out in the crowd at 14 when Koepka’s ball just sailed over the green
— Dylan Dethier (@dylan_dethier) May 19, 2019
Ironically, it was those very same jeers that snapped Koepka back into focus.
“I tell you what, the hour spent from No. 11 to 14 was interesting,” Koepka said. “When they started chanting, ‘DJ’ on 14, it actually kind of helped, to be honest with you. I think it helped me kind of refocus and hit a good one down 15. I think that was probably the best thing that could have happened.”
Koepka would go on to make pars at 15 and 16, and despite a bogey at the par-3 17th, he had rebuilt a three-shot cushion that allowed him to play the last relatively stress-free.
As for Varner III, he would go on to shoot an 11-over par 81 to drop from a tie for second at the start of the day to a tie for 36th at the end of it.
“Man, it’s just rough,” Varner III said. “It was hard. It was really hard. I just didn’t play well enough. It was a great experience. I’m going to get a lot better. It’s just a hard golf course.
“I was super excited, man. It’s a great opportunity. I just don’t know how you can’t get up for that. I just didn’t play very well. I didn’t do what I was supposed to do. And I’m excited I had the opportunity, but I’m excited to learn from it and get better.”