Brooks Koepka might lack wins, but not hardware
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. (AP) — Brooks Koepka now has as many majors as Greg Norman and as many PGA Tour victories as Pat Perez.
Koepka belongs in the conversation of elite players in his generation by winning his second U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, a test that asked an entirely different set of questions than the U.S. Open he won last year at Erin Hills.
Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth are the only players in their 20s to have won multiple majors, at least for now.
And while the 28-year-old Koepka is only in his fourth full year on the PGA Tour, to see his supreme performance at Shinnecock Hills makes it hard to believe he has only one other PGA Tour title. That was three years ago at the Phoenix Open.
That’s likely to change. It might have to for Koepka to get the recognition he deserves, even if that’s not what drives him.
His record should get anyone’s attention.
Koepka has finished among the top 15 in nine of his past 10 majors starting with the 2015 British Open at St. Andrews. The exception was the Masters two years ago, when he tied for 21st. He missed a month with an ankle injury and returned with a tie for fourth at the 2016 PGA Championship to secure a spot on his first Ryder Cup team. And then he went 3-1 in his Ryder Cup debut at Hazeltine.
He really is a major player.
So what about all the other tournaments he’s played?
Koepka touched on that last summer at the Bridgestone Invitational when he said the majors are where “I feel like I’m going to shine.”
“Unfortunately, I haven’t done it as much in regular tour events or throughout my career,” Koepka said. “It’s just being a little bit more focused, maybe taking it more serious, knowing that every shot … to me, it feels like life or death. If you screw up, you’re gone. I just love getting up for it and playing the best and playing really, really hard golf courses.”
Shinnecock went from ridiculously hard on Saturday to overly gentle on Sunday, though the ultimate measure was Koepka playing the final 36 holes in even par to win. He finished at 1-over 281, the first time in five years that no one broke par at the U.S. Open.
The USGA doesn’t like to talk about scores, but that’s the identity of this major.
And for now, majors define Koepka.
Norman gets beat up for the number of majors he could have won, including at Shinnecock Hills in 1986, the year he had the 54-hole lead at all four majors. The Shark also had 75 victories around the world and was No. 1 longer than any other player until Tiger Woods came along.
Sunday at Shinnecock began with a four-way tie for the lead, with the past two U.S. Open champions — Koepka and Dustin Johnson — playing in the penultimate group. They are close friends off the course, and even worked out together in the morning before their last two rounds.
Koepka went 1 up on U.S. Open trophies. Still, he was stumped when asked who was ahead in their back-and-forth.
Johnson, still only 33 but much like Norman, hasn’t cashed in at the majors as much as he should have. Attribute that to a cold putter on the weekend at Shinnecock, which also held him back at Augusta in April.
Even so, he has 18 victories and is the only player to sweep the World Golf Championships, small fields with the best players.
“He’s won every year he’s been out here. That’s incredible,” Koepka said. “I don’t know how long he’s been out here, 11 years? How many wins has got, 18? That’s pretty good. I’ve got some catching up to do.”
Koepka believes Johnson will win another U.S. Open and said he would end his career as among the best to ever play. That will require more than one additional major, for sure, though Johnson already is well ahead in the victory count.
That’s the next step for Koepka, at least until the next major.
Before earning his PGA Tour card, Koepka won the Turkish Airlines Open against a strong European Tour field that included Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Branden Grace and Ian Poulter. Late last year, he registered a nine-shot victory in the Dunlop Phoenix, one of the strongest Japan Golf Tour events. Xander Schauffele tied for second, with Hideki Matsuyama another shot behind.
Koepka doesn’t really think about his legacy. He might care even less if people talk about him as much as Johnson, Spieth or McIlroy.
He had a silver trophy in front of him, and it looked familiar. His name goes on there twice, one below the other. That hasn’t happened since Curtis Strange won at Brookline in 1988 and Oak Hill in 1989.
“I looked at all these names a million times last year, just looking at everybody,” he said. “To have my name on there twice is pretty incredible, and to go back-to-back is even more extraordinary.”
Those trophies could use some company. For now, they take up a lot of space on the mantle.