Brooks Koepka is even better than you think
In 2018, Brooks Koepka became the fifth player in history to win the U.S. Open and PGA Championship in the same season. The names he joined are an assembly of golf deities: Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. The last name on that list – Tiger, rejuvenated legend – was the last man standing between Koepka and the Wanamaker Trophy that Sunday last August in Missouri. Brooks beat him by two.
With the victory, Koepka became just the sixth American since 1940 to win three or more majors before turning 29, joining Jordan Spieth, Woods, Tom Watson, Nicklaus and Byron Nelson.
Yet, entering the following major – April’s Masters Tournament – Koepka sat with 25-to-1 odds to win at Augusta National. That was tied for 11th-best alongside Bryson DeChambeau, Bubba Watson and Jason Day. Notables given better odds to win entering the week were Rickie Fowler (16-to-1), Jon Rahm (16-to-1) and Tommy Fleetwood (20-to-1). Koepka has three more majors than that trio does combined.
At the end of that historic week in Georgia, it was Koepka who was the last man standing between Woods and his fifth green jacket. The runner-up finish was the seventh top-five for Koepka in majors since the beginning of 2014. Only Spieth (eight) has more in that span.
Koepka is now a combined 55-under-par in majors since the 2016 PGA Championship began. That is 15 strokes better than any other player during that stretch (Fowler, -40). His 3.97 birdies & eagles per round in those major championships is also by far the most in that span – Justin Rose and Tony Finau are tied for second at 3.5 per round.
In that stretch of nine majors played (he missed the 2018 Masters with an injury), Koepka has three wins and no missed cuts. Just how rare is that?
In the last sixty years, there have been 34 different instances of a player with three (or more) wins and no missed cuts in a stretch of nine majors played. Many of those (like by Nicklaus, Woods or Palmer) overlap with each other. Tiger Woods has ten instances, while Nicklaus has six. Koepka is responsible for two of them – the run of his last nine major starts, and the run he was on entering The Masters.
What about the coupling of victories, not missing cuts, and an elite scoring average? When you factor in Koepka’s scoring average in those majors – 69.4 – the list of 34 instances pares down significantly.
In the last sixty years, only two men have had a run in majors like Koepka has since the 2016 PGA: three or more wins, no missed cuts, and a scoring average of 69.5 or better: Tiger and Brooks.
Since the beginning of 2017, Koepka leads all players in strokes gained per round in major championships, at 2.87. That is more than a half-stroke per round better than anyone else during that stretch: Fowler is second, averaging 2.36.
This week, Koepka can win his second major championship in the state of New York in less than a year’s time. But what he can achieve next month in California is truly untouchable major championship air.
No player has won any men’s professional major championship three years in a row in more than six decades. The last man to do it was Peter Thomson, who won three consecutive Open Championships in 1954, 1955 and 1956. How long ago was 1956? It was the year Elvis Presley released his first hit song.
The only American man to win any major three or more straight years was Walter Hagen, who won the PGA four times in a row from 1924 to 1927. And the only player in U.S. Open history to win the tournament three years in a row was Willie Anderson of Scotland, doing it in 1903, 1904 and 1905.
All this, and it is possible Brooks could have already achieved three legs of the grand slam: Koepka finished tied for second at April’s Masters Tournament despite ranking 52nd in the field for the week in strokes gained putting.
His name already etched in history, Brooks Koepka should be a force in major championships for years to come.