Over the last four majors, a total of five golfers have beaten Brooks Koepka. Five.
The memory of one of those defeats, however, could be the juice the four-time major winner needs to make sure he claims his rightful place in golf history this weekend at the 2020 PGA Championship.
“Yeah, it would mean extra because I wasn’t able to do it at the U.S. Open,” Koepka Thursday said of completing a PGA Championship three-peat this week at TPC Harding Park. “I think that drove me nuts a little bit. I mean, obviously I played about as good — I played good golf, but I just got beat by Gary.
“You know, to do it here, it would be special. I think — I don’t know how many — I think there’s, what, six guys that have ever won three in a row. Yeah, not a bad list to be on. That’s the whole goal every time we tee it up in a major is to win them. The whole year is spent prepping for these four.”
Koepka entered last year’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach with the same history in his sights. He was looking to become the first player to win three straight U.S. Opens since Willie Anderson achieved the feat from 1903 to 1905. Koepka played well at Pebble Beach but was bested by Gary Woodland, finishing three shots back in second place, letting a chance to join golf immortality slip through his fingers.
He arrived at TPC Harding Park laser-focused to not miss out on his latest chance to etch his name in stone with golf’s greats. Only three golfers since 1882 to win the same major three years in a row.
On Thursday, Koepka stumbled out of the gates in the first round but rebounded nicely, finishing with 4-under-par 66. He backed that up with a 2-under-par 68 Friday in tough conditions at TPC Harding Park, entering the weekend two shots behind 36-hole leader Haotong Li.
Armed with unmatched confidence and an unflappable resolve, Koepka has become a fixture at major championships. He’s finished 18 of his last 21 rounds in the top-four. He arrives on the game’s biggest stages, and asks you to rip the trophy from his cold, dead hands. Woodland did that at the U.S. Open. Shane Lowry likewise at the 2019 British Open at Royal Portrush where Koepka finished tied for fourth.
He has a cloak of invincibility that surrounds him as he rips apart the game’s most iconic course. A beast with an insatiable hunger to add more major notches to his belt.
Major championships are Koepka’s lifeblood. History being attached to the moment only elevates his self-confidence.
“I’m pretty happy,” Koepka said after his second round. “I felt like I probably could be [10 under] right now. Hit a lot of good putts, just didn’t go in. A couple of them, if I just hit them, they’re in. But driving it pretty well. Iron play, I’m pretty pleased with. You know, I like where I’m at.”
He has battled a left knee injury since the fall. The injury nagged him throughout the restart as he was struggling to make cuts at normal tour stops. But with a major approaching, Koepka seemingly forced his knee to cooperate through sheer force of will. It’s no longer an issue with the year’s first major championship and golf history on the line.
For Koepka, his true superpower lies in uncanny self-belief. Even the best don’t arrive at majors believing they are easier to win than normal tour events. But for Koepka, they have been. He has seven career wins, four of which have been major championships.
He never doubts himself. In order to vanquish him, you must be flawless.
“I think I can definitely play a lot better, and just need to tidy a few things up, and we’ll be there come Sunday on the back nine,” Koepka said after his first round.
Like clockwork, Koepka arrives four times a year to pummel the best fields in golf, leaving the game’s best in his wake.
After 13 months without a major championship, Koepka was itching to finally get his chance at history. Thirsting to put on another show with a major championship on the line.
He enters the weekend at TPC Harding Park with one hand wrapped around a third consecutive Wanamaker Trophy, The Cypress Tree and Lake Merced will play host to a duel this weekend. Not between Koepka and Li or the host of other golfers still in the mix. But between Koepka and golf history. The kind that was wrestled away from him by the shores of Stillwater Cove.
That defeat only strengthened Koepka’s resolve and thirst to complete the task in front of him. It will take a Herculean effort by someone to vanquish golf’s greatest big game hunter at TPC Harding Park.
Brooks Koepka in perfect position to make PGA Championship history originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area