FARMINGDALE, NY. Here we go again. When Brooks Koepka stepped into the media center to dissect his sterling first round 63 at the 101st PGA Championship at Bethpage’s Black Course he was asked to review his round and pairing with Masters champion Tiger Woods. “You know, it was a great that Tiger won Augusta, but I mean, we’re at a new week now.”
Yes — a new week now. For Brooks the Masters happened — but that’s in his rear view mirror.In just those few words — the 29-year-old crystalized his focus on where he sees himself and what he’s looking to do on the golf course. Koepka respects Tiger and says forthrightly he’s the greatest to have ever played the game. Yet, he’s just another obstacle in his way. Consider this — the 63 set a course record at the Black and matches the 63 he shot at Bellerive last year in capturing the Wannamaker Trophy. No one has ever shot 63s in major events in back-to-back years.
Koepka’s round had no bogeys and seven birdies. In fact, Woods himself said that the 63 was as high as he could have shot given the fact Brooks did not make a birdie on either of the two par-5 holes at the Black.
“I’ve just got to go out there and focus on me. I’m not really concerned about what’s going on” — with Tiger or anyone else for that matter.
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At last year’s PGA — Koepka said it plainly on denying Woods a major win at Bellerive. “I think everybody in the field would love to strop him. I mean, I enjoyed stopping history, I had a great time.”
Since winning his first major — the US Open at Erin Hills in 2017 — the Koepka performances in majors is as follows: 3 wins, five top tens and his worst outing a T39th at the 2018 Open Championship. At this past Masters — a botched approach at the always dangerous par-3 12th in Sunday’s final round pushed him down the leaderboard but an eagle at the 13th and a near birdie at the final hole almost caught Woods.
Bethpage Black is a muscular course and what better recipe for success than to be a muscular player. Much is made of Koepka’s powerful physique but his deft touch on the greens during Thursday 1st round was of equal billing. That mindset comes from his approach. “Just to grind on every shot. You can’t take a shot off. I mean, in the majors, even if it’s a tap-in from a foot and a half, I’m still going through my routine. You can’t take anything for granted out there.”
Earlier in the week Koepka stated rather boldly that his approach to majors could very well have win plenty in the years ahead. “I don’t see any reason it (total major wins) can’t get to double-digits.” Such a comment from just about any other player would be laughed at in a big time way. No one’s saying Koepka’s call is just idle chatter.
Koepka also showed both confidence and humility after his brilliant round. “That was one of the best rounds I’ve ever played as a professional. This golf course is brutal. If you’re not going to drive it. like I said, it tests every asset of your game.”
An 18-hole first round lead doesn’t guarantee Koepka will reclaim his PGA title without a tussle. But, when you’ve won three majors before turning 30 and you have the opportunity to concurrently defend your tile in two different majors — something no one else has done — that clearly raises the bar to a different level.
Early on as he made his way on to leaderboards with regularity Koepka believed — quite rightly — that a good portion of the media did not take him seriously as a golfer of serious talent. Many wrote off his win at Erin Hills as being the by-product of a generous USGA set-up. His defense at Shinnecock last year and then the monumental final round effort to beat Tiger and claim the PGA title has quieted the naysayers.
There’s much golf to still be played but should Koepka capture his fourth major then a clear passing of the baton will be happening. Koepka’s calling card is total confidence in himself and what his game can deliver at crucial times. When other players attempt to make such calls the likely outcome is a disconnect or a busy signal.
Going into the 2016 Ryder Cup Matches at Hazeltine National, Graeme McDowell mentioned how the Europeans rated Koepka as America’s top talent. The Floridian is showing clearly his game is more than capable in adding more major championship hardware.
Koepka plays with blinders on — a trait Jack Nicklaus was famous for saying when he competed and won numerous majors. While the Black surrendered in Thursday’s first round — Koepka is well aware a new call will need to happen from this point forward.
“If you don’t have a good day, you can very easily shoot 5, 6-over. There’s a fine line between 5, 6-over and a couple under out here. It’s a fun golf course to play, that’s for sure.,” said Brooks. Should he get to four majors one can only imagine what he’s capable in achieving. Koepka’s call is looking like the right number.
The final 54 holes will clearly be most telling.