The weight of history would be a burden to most. A roadblock on the path to immortality.
For Brooks Koepka, though, it’s nothing more than the wind at his back.
“I don’t view it as either one,” Koepka said at TPC Harding Park when asked if the topic about his quest for three straight PGA Championships was a help or hindrance. “I’ve already dealt with it at the U.S. Open going into Pebble. I feel like I know how to handle it and I played pretty well there. I just got beat.”
Sure enough, Koepka arrived at Pebble Beach last June looking to become the first player to win three straight U.S. Opens since Willie Anderson did so from 1903-05. He entered the final round four shots back of Gary Woodland, but Koepka was unfazed by the enormity of the moment. He birdied four of his first five holes that Sunday and looked like he would indeed become just the fourth golfer since 1882 to win the same major three consecutive years in a row. But Koepka couldn’t get the putts to drop on the back nine, and eventually finished three shots behind Woodland, his quest for U.S. Open history sinking to the bottom of Stillwater Cove.
It’s a familiar feeling for Koepka this week, who arrives at TPC Harding Park again with a chance to join that club. After tearing about Bellerive Country Club in 2018 and surviving a back-nine stumble at Bethpage Black last year, the four-time major champion has the opportunity to become the first golfer to win three straight PGA Championships since Walter Hagen won four in a row from 1924-27.
Koepka’s game has been a work in progress all year. He’s battled a left knee issue that required a stem cell treatment in the fall, and has struggled to find the consistent excellence he enjoyed the past two seasons. But after leading the field in stroke gained: tee to green two weeks ago at the 3M Championship, and leading the field in strokes gained: approach last week at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, Koepka appears to be rounding into form just in time for another assault on the history books.
“My game feels like it’s in really, really good shape right now,” Koepka said. “I like the way I’m hitting it, and feels — putting it really, really well. Every day is a lot more comfortable. I’m excited. This is a big-boy golf course. Got to hit it straight and put it in the fairway. It’s going to be quite long. I think it kind of plays into my hands.”
The list of golfers who have tried and failed to win a third consecutive major title is a who’s who of Hall of Famers that includes Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan and Nick Faldo.
Woods won consecutive PGA Championships in 1999 and 2000, and did so again in 2006 and 2007. He won the British Open in 2005 and 2006, and triumphed in back-to-back Masters in 2001 and 2002. Woods missed the cut in three of his four tries at a three-peat and didn’t play in the 2008 PGA due to a knee injury.
Hagen Anderson and Peter Thomson are the only three golfers to successfully win three consecutive majors since 1882. A list Koepka hopes to join with an impressive showing at Glory’s
Last First Chance.
Koepka, like Woods and Nicklaus, saves his best for the game’s biggest stages. Four of his seven career wins have been major titles, and he said prior to the 2019 PGA Championship that he feels winning majors is easier because he really only has to play better than a handful of his competitors.
When most people would wilt, Koepka thrives, dominating the best in the world without appearing to break much a sweat. Winning majors is difficult. It’s a test only the best are born to pass.
One Koepka thoroughly relishes acing.
“It’s fun,” he said about the setup at the PGA Championship. “I love it. I love the fact that it’s probably the toughest test of golf you’re going to play all year with — setup-wise and then mentally it’s exhausting. I enjoy when it gets tough. I enjoy when things get complicated. You can really — there’s always disaster lurking, I think it is something I enjoy, where every shot really means something.”
Every shot will have the added weight of history on it this week for Koepka. That weight would bother most, but to Brooks Koepka it’s nothing major.
Brooks Koepka unbothered by pressure of making PGA Championship history originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area