Brooks Koepka Continuing Historic Run in Golf’s Majors
The year 2020 has been a year of unprecedented change, from quarantines to job insecurity to social distancing. At least one thing, though, has proven to be consistent and reliable amid the COVID-19 pandemic: Brooks Koepka contending in one of golf's major championships.
Through three rounds of the PGA Championship, Koepka, the two-time defending champion of the event, is tied for fourth place at 7-under par, two strokes behind leader Dustin Johnson.
The top of the leaderboard in a major is a familiar spot for Koepka, who has won four of the last 11 majors dating back to the 2017 U.S. Open. But his ability to elevate his game for golf's most prestigious events didn't start there.
Before the summer of 2014, Koepka had played in 14 PGA Tour events and collected only one top-15 finish. He was 24 years old and had no status on any tour in the United States -- let alone the PGA Tour.
But after qualifying for the 2014 U.S. Open, he finished fourth to earn PGA Tour status for the 2015 season. Later in the season, he finished 15th at the PGA Championship. He had only three top-15 finishes in his career, but two of them had come in majors.
Over the next two seasons, Koepka played 33 non-majors and recorded 10 top-10 finishes, including his first PGA Tour win. He played in seven majors in the same span and had four top-10s and a tie for 13th. He hadn't seriously contended in a major yet, but Koepka began to build a reputation as a young player on the verge of a breakout.
After a T11 finish at the 2017 Masters, Koepka's breakout came at the very next major. He was one shot off the lead entering the final round of the 2017 U.S. Open, but cruised to the title after a final-round 67, the second-lowest round by any player that day.
It looked like he might win back-to-back majors when he began the 2017 Open Championship with a 65 and shared the first-round lead. He went on to finish sixth, then added a T13 at the PGA Championship. He had finished in the top-25 in 10 consecutive majors played and ended 2017 at No. 8 in the world rankings.
The following year, Koepka successfully defended his title at the U.S. Open, becoming just the third player in the last century to win the tournament back-to-back. Two months later, he won the PGA Championship, becoming just the fifth player to ever win the U.S. Open and the PGA in the same year. The other four? All-time greats Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen.
Even more impressive about that 2018 PGA Championship victory was whom Koepka held off: Woods himself. The resurgent legend shot a 64 that day, the lowest final round he's ever shot in a major, but Koepka didn't fold, establishing himself as the best pressure player in the post-Woods era. He finished 2018 as the No. 1 player in the world.
Koepka shared the lead after the first and second rounds of the 2019 Masters. It appeared he might become the third player to ever hold three of the four major titles at the same time, joining Woods and Hogan, but he narrowly missed a birdie putt on the 18th hole on Sunday and finished one shot behind Woods.
One month later, Koepka opened the 2019 PGA with a 63, becoming just the third player ever to shoot multiple 63s in majors (Hall of Famers Greg Norman and Vijay Singh are the others). He dominated all week, led by seven strokes entering the final round and held on for his fourth major title. He became the only player to ever be the two-time defending champion of two different majors at the same time.
He nearly won his third straight U.S. Open in 2019 at Pebble Beach, birdieing four of the first five holes in the final round to mount a charge, but he fell just short. That capped a four-major stretch in which he had two wins and two runner-ups.
This week he's again trying to three-peat at a major, which has been done once in the last 100 years. He has 12 top-10s in 21 majors dating back to 2014, and six of the other nine were between T11 and T21. He has made the cut, meaning he's in the top half of the field through two rounds, in 22 straight majors.
The best statistic to illustrate Koepka's ability to raise his game in majors is this: He has played 111 non-major events on the PGA Tour since turning pro and has won three of them. He's played 24 majors as a pro and won four of them.
Since the inception of the Masters in 1934, only 13 players have won more majors than Koepka's four. He's still only 30 years old, and he just might get No. 5 this weekend.
[gallerytitle="Famous Athletes Who Wore A Mask" galleryid="531:614300"]