Brooks Koepka doesn’t need raucous spectators or large grandstands to know its a major championship.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Koepka knew once he arrived at TPC Harding Park that it was a major championship week.
“It’s pretty obvious it’s a major when you pull in,” Koepka said. “It’s a big boy golf course.”
Koepka enters this week’s PGA Championship flirting with history and surrounded by questions. The four-time major champion dominated these events since 2017, leading the PGA Tour in scoring average at 70-under-par. This includes back-to-back PGA Championships, with Koepka staving off Tiger Woods at Bellerive, and surviving the elements at Bethpage Black last year.
— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) August 4, 2020
With the win, Koepka has five majors in his last 11 attempts, joining Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, and Tiger Woods as the only golfers to complete this feat. He also ties Phil Mickelson and Seve Ballesteros and surpasses his playing peer Rory McIlroy.
But 2020 hasn’t afforded Koepka with winning opportunities. He has zero wins this season and only two top-10s, including a seventh-place finish at the RBC Heritage.
External distractions, from the COVID-19 pandemic pausing the PGA Tour season for three months to his caddie, Ricky Elliott, testing positive for the virus, impeded Koepka’s rhythm. Most notably, Koepka’s left knee has bothered him throughout 2020, putting a strain on his power-hitting game.
These circumstances aside, Koepka knew he needed to find that “gear” for majors as he did in years past.
“It’s just been a lot of patience,” Koepka said. “Obviously things didn’t get off to a good start this whole year; basically from Korea till 3M wasn’t the start or play I was looking for. But at the same time, I felt like I was progressing. So sometimes the results are a little bit slower than what I would like. I expect so much of myself, almost too much sometimes and that can be annoying,”
“But at the same time, I knew this week was a couple of weeks away, so I had no other option other than to find it.”
Koepka exuded confidence and success last week at the WGC FedEx-St. Jude Invitational, a tournament he won in 2019. He led the field in strokes gained: approach, a category that he was number one in for two of his four major wins. Koepka led down the stretch on Sunday, before two careless shots on 16 and 18, paved the way for a Justin Thomas victory.
Was it bad luck? Or was it the knee affecting his coordination? We will never know.
Except that Koepka found something last week that he hopes will translate at TPC Harding Park.
“Just to be in contention I thought was nice,” Koepka said. I hit it well, we worked on some things over the weekend and it started to click and you could clearly see what was going on.”
Injury or not, Koepka is still the player to beat at the majors. His scoring average at the PGA Championship of 69.0 leads the PGA Tour the last quarter-century. Koepka also holds the 72 hole record at the PGA Championship, set in 2018 (264).
His laser focus at the major championships allows Koepka to contend come Sunday afternoon. Last year, he famously said that he only needs to beat a handful of guys to win a major.
This year, he echoed similar sentiments.
“The way the golf course sets up eliminates pretty much half the guys, and then from there, you know, half of those guys probably won’t play well,” Koepka said. “Then from there, I feel like mentally I can beat them, the other half, so you’ve probably got ten guys. That’s the way I see it.”
This major will be unlike any other, given the reality of no fans in attendance. That doesn’t bother Koepka, who is determined to once again make history, becoming the first player since Walter Hagen to win three consecutive PGA championships.