Column: Time to appreciate Koepka as he chases Open history

June 15, 2019

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Brooks Koepka is chasing history, and no one seems to care.

Three U.S. Opens in a row. Five wins in the last nine majors.

What time does Tiger Woods tee off anyway?

Small wonder Koepka began the Open with a chip on his shoulder. If golf fans can't get excited about the way he's playing, maybe they should start watching pickleball instead.

Koepka put himself in contention for a record third straight Open title Saturday, though you wouldn't have known it by the reaction of the massive crowds at Pebble Beach. He shot a 3-under 68 much the same way he won the last two Opens — by taking care of the business at hand without making any major mistakes.

Should he come from four shots back to win Sunday he'll become the first player to win three Opens in a row since Willie Anderson turned the trick shortly after the turn of the last century. If you're keeping score at home, he's also won the last two PGA Championships, the most recent just last month in New York.

It's the kind of thing Woods might have done in his prime when Tigermania was raging. The kind of thing the fan dressed in a Tiger suit off the 14th fairway Saturday probably expected Woods to do after winning the Masters this year.

And all anyone can do is yawn.

Blame it on television (more on that later), blame it on Koepka's low-key nature. Blame it on golf fans more interested in personalities than great play.

But Koepka is in the middle of one of the great runs in golf history. And it's time to start treating it as just that.

He's already conquered golf's toughest test in America's heartland at Erin Hills and on the coast of Long Island at Shinnecock Hills. There's really no reason to believe he can't do it on the coast of California even if Justin Rose and Gary Woodland start the final day in front of him.

"I don't need to go out and chase," Koepka said. "I don't need to do much. Just kind of let it come to you."

Those are words of a defending champion more than comfortable in his own skin. Koepka has figured out the puzzle that some players never solve in majors, and he seems to perform best when there's more on the line.

He may not win this Open, but one thing is sure — the moment won't be too big for him.

"Obviously, whatever I'm doing is working," he said.

Just what that is seems easier for Koepka to show than to explain. He talks about finding positives in negatives and staying in the moment, but he also acknowledges searching for motivation in other ways.

That was evident when he showed up at Pebble Beach earlier this week a bit peeved that promotions on the Fox network featured Woods and other top players, but not the defending two-time champion.

"Just kind of shocked," he said. "They've had over a year to kind of put it out. So I don't know. Somebody probably got fired over it or should."

Koepka himself isn't exactly up on his golf history. He knew the name Willie Anderson, but not much more about the Scot who won Opens in 1901 and from 1903-05.

If he needs any update, he can get it from Curtis Strange, the last player to go for three straight. Strange is working for Fox this week, and knows he's watching something special.

"Anyone I've seen who walks the walk it's Brooks Koepka," said Strange, who won the Open in 1988-89. "Outward he does look like it's another round of golf. We're trying to talk ourselves that something big is normal. He goes about his business like a professional every day."

In Saturday's third round that professionalism showed. Koepka made three birdies against no bogeys, finishing with eight straight pars that included a shot around the big tree in the 18th fairway.

He has three rounds in the 60s, almost unheard of in a U.S. Open, even on a Pebble Beach course that is relatively docile with little wind. But while fans screamed every time they saw Woods, all Koepka got after hitting his drive on the ninth hole was one "three peat" yell that other fans ignored.

Really, though, the only thing to compare Koepka to these days is Woods himself. Koepka is on the kind of streak not seen since Woods won all four majors in 2000-01, the kind of streak that we may not see again for a long time.

It's time to start appreciating that for what it is.