Unbelievable! Can anybody beat Brooks Koepka?

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Golf analysts and pundits are having a hard time putting Brooks Koepka’s latest PGA Championship victory into perspective. Since holding back-to-back titles in two majors at the same time has never been done before, they have no comparison, yet seem reluctant to put Koepka on a pedestal with Tiger Woods, Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones, who all managed to win multiple back-to-back majors, albeit at different times. What’s your perspective on the historical significance of Koepka’s achievement?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Koepka’s achievement is monumental, and would be celebrated as such if the guy was a little more colourful on and off the course, a little less outspoken when he does raise an issue, AND if he hadn’t really taken the golf world by surprise over the last three years.  In other words, I think all the golf experts didn’t see him coming, and wish he’d turned out to be a fluke to cover for the fact that he’d been under their radar. However, as of Sunday evening, he’ll have to be in the “elite” conversation for a long time to come… unless he turns out to be the greatest fluke of all time and disappears very quickly.  The only blemish on his incredible performance on the weekend was his brief veer onto the shoulder in the middle of the back nine.  He kicked up little dust, but straightened out quickly, and won a very convincing victory.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Uh, Koepka isn’t in all time great status, not even close. I’m not sure why, but he can’t win regular PGA Tour events at the same clip. And winning matters to me not just on Majors, but period. Brooks has an excellent record in big events the last few years, but total number of wins at the end of his career won’t be 80+ like a Tiger. That’s the main reason I’m not willing to put him anywhere near Tiger or other greats in terms of significance at this point. No doubting his great run right now, its quite a performance and accomplishment, one of the best, not quite, lets see how he does at the US Open and Open Championship later this year.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: Don’t you love the media and the public? It doesn’t matter what a person accomplishes there is either a ‘lovefest’ or a ‘denial’. IF everyone loves you the victories are exaggerated, celebrated and worshipped. IF you are the slightest bit less popular, underappreciated or even misunderstood good luck! The significance of Koepka’s wins is how close they are to each other however Jack, Tiger, Ben, Walter and Bobby all had their respective ‘clumps’. The problem is he isn’t finished yet? We are trying to judge a moving target. Let’s all take a breath, enjoy the moment and be thankful it has nothing to do with Tiger.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): This sport has an extremely rich and lengthy history, so when someone pulls off an unprecedented feat involving majors like Koepka did over the weekend you have to acknowledge it for the incredible achievement that it is. Koepka may not be the most popular guy on the tour, but we are witnessing him do something great right now. For years, pundits wondered who the next Tiger would be. It’s very clear now after watching Brooks win three of the last 5 majors that he is that man.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Every so often, someone charts new territory, and it’s almost impossible to put the achievement into perspective. Koepka is clearly super-focused on majors and were it not for a whiff of wind on the 12th hole Sunday at Augusta, we might be talking about the possibility of four majors in a row next month at Pebble Beach. Even if he never wins another one, his winning clip (4 out of 8) and the two back-to-backs are huge. So too is the route he took to get where he is. Usually players prepare to win majors by playing, then winning, lesser tournaments. Koepka disappeared to Europe, then became World #1 – all in a few years. Today, players everywhere are trying to figure it out.

Koepka has done what few players have ever done before they turned 30 and must be considered one of the brightest young stars on the PGA Tour. Yet one of the knocks against him seems to be that he hasn’t won enough regular PGA Tour events. With a total of six victories, majors represent a whopping 66.6% of his total. Jordan Spieth would be next at 27.3% (3 majors out of 11 total wins) and Rory McIlroy at 26.6% (4 majors out of 15 total wins) among elite players. If Koepka does nothing else except win majors, is his career somehow diminished?

Deeks: No, I believe his career will be enhanced if it wracks up only (or mainly) majors.  Nobody remembers the non-majors that Bobby Jones, or Hogan, Palmer, or Nicklaus won — or anyone, for that matter.  Majors make a career. And if Brooks wins nothing but majors from here on, he’ll be hailed as an even greater champion — one who could bring his game only where it truly mattered.

Loughry: I believe if Brooks can’t find a way to win more events, that his record is somewhat diminished. However, if he wins 18 or more Majors, that would not tarnish his stature in history. In fact, it may redefine how players prepare themselves for their career. Tiger was always quoted as saying he only cared about Majors and prepared his schedule around them. Brooks may be doing the same and time will tell whether he’s considered one of the best in history at it. The one thing we haven’t seen yet from Brooks is a dip in his performance. It will be interesting to see if this happens and how he responds. Many great players go through this: Nicklaus, Palmer, and current players: Jason Day, Rory, Spieth, and to some degree, DJ.

Schurman: This is a reasonable position. Andy North only won 3 times on the PGA but two were US Opens. Is he a ‘great’ player? Steve Stricker won 12 times and $42M but no major; is he a ‘great’ player? Seeded deep in the psyche of sporting analysists and supported (not openly) by athletic peers is the thought that a player isn’t ‘great’ without a championship trophy, ring or jacket. Team sports come with the reality that winning involves a contribution from every player on the team. However, individual sports championships are fraught with the weather, luck and/or a spectacular performance by a fellow competitor. I find it fascinating how much we talk about Jack’s 18, Tiger’s 15, Jones’ 13 and Hogan’s 9 but we conveniently give little credit to Hagen’s 11 PROFESSIONAL majors. Not only did he win 11 majors he did it without the Masters, which began after Walter’s career was over. He won the Western Open 5 times and the North-South Open 3 times, which were both considered majors at that time. Therefore, Walter Hagen won the most majors of any other player with a total of 19. How history judges Brooks Koepka would be interesting if his career ended today but what if he wins 20 majors and just two regular tour events?

Kaplan: Absolutely not. No one cares about how many regular season events you win unless you’re closing in on the all-time record. It’s all about majors and Koepka now has as many as Rory McIlroy and Ernie Els, and one more than Jordan Spieth. If he wins another one—and at this point, it’s more a question of when than if he’ll tie Phil Mickelson. And he’s not even 30 yet! Simply remarkable!

Mumford: Not in the least. Koepka may be the definition of the new superstar. The PGA Tour requires players to meet minimum appearance guidelines. Over the years, many of the best have bristled at such a notion, arguing that they were independent contractors and could decide how best to play and prepare. Nicklaus, Ballesteros, Woods and others played the least and won the most, gearing their schedule around the majors. Koepka’s early success may guide his future schedule too. Reputations are built around major championships and if he never wins another regular Tour event but racks up a few more majors, it won’t diminish his legacy a bit.

With his latest win, Koepka jumps to #1 in the World Golf Rankings and is now the odds-on favourite to win the U.S. Open next month at Pebble Beach. How do you like his chances?

Deeks: It seems that the golf world immediately assumes that the last major winner is destined to become the next major winner (see: Woods, Tiger, April 15-May15, 2019).  I like Koepka’s chances a lot at Pebble, yet I assume nothing.  But c’mon, let’s give poor old DJ a nod here, okay?  He’s now completed the Second Place Slam… finishing second in all four majors.  Yes, he may have a Shakespearean fatal flaw in not being able to seal the deal, but surely he has the game to do a Bill the Butcher on Pebble Beach.  And if he’s able to build an insurmountable lead by mid-day Saturday, it’s possible even he may be able to stay out of his own way and fall over the finish line ahead of everyone else on Sunday.  So, mark me down… DJ wins at Pebble Beach.

Loughry: I’m not sure I can bet against Koepka like everyone has over the past few years! The quiet killer keeps producing. Pebble is a little different than where Brooks has won his last few Majors though. It’s not overly long and has SMALL greens. It will be a different test for Brooks, and I think the conditions and setup will allow more players to rise the top of the leaderboard (not just bomb and gougers). It will be a tough defence to his title this year, I pick him to do well, he might even win, but I think we’ll see more players in the mix. There’s nothing like watching live Major golf at night back on the east coast, one of my favourite things to do.

Schurman: He will be the favourite at about 4 or 5 to one. An even more demanding question is “How does Tiger rate”?

Kaplan: Love his chances! Koepka is going to three-peat at the U.S. Open and break yet another record, and I don’t think it’s going to be particularly close either. He’s too damn good!

Mumford: Right now, almost everyone on the PGA Tour is trying to figure out how to beat Brooks. That gives him an edge on most of the field. His supreme confidence kills the hopes of a few more. Once play starts at Pebble, there may only be a handful of players that really believe they have a chance to win. Tiger had the same dynamic working for him twenty years ago. I like Koepka’s chances a lot.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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