PEBBLE BEACH, CALIF. – A self-proclaimed “normal guy,” two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka is poised starting Thursday to become only the second man in its 119-year history to win the U.S. Open three consecutive times.
That man was a Scottish immigrant named Willie Anderson, who won $200 and a gold medal for completing a three-peat in 1905.
“Obviously, that was a long, long time ago,” Koepka said.
Five men — including the great Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan — have won consecutive U.S. Opens and played for a third, but Curtis Strange in 1990 is the only one in the last 69 years to do so. He tied for 21st, returned the trophy he’d come to call his little buddy and at age 35, the 17-time PGA Tour winner never won on the tour again.
Ranked No. 1 in the world, Koepka is 29, has won both the past two U.S. Opens and PGAs and his four majors are twice his regular tour event victories.
Strange calls him the ultimate modern player who drives it long and straight, strikes his irons true and makes putts.
“This is who he is, you know?” three-time major winner Jordan Spieth said. “This isn’t just a run. He’s going to be a force to be reckoned with for decades, so get used to it.”
Much the same was said about Spieth when he won the 2015 Masters and U.S. Open, followed by the 2017 British Open. Koepka has won two of the past three majors — and was second at the Masters in the other — and four of the past eight.
Nobody has done something like that since Tiger Woods won seven of 11 majors from 1999 to 2002.
Koepka deems himself a regular guy everywhere but between the ropes. He’s a player whose performance far outdistances his understated persona, a social-media posting of his backside while he wore a thong last winter in the Maldives notwithstanding.
“I view myself completely different than people view me,” he said. “I still think it’s weird when I walk into a place and I can see eyes are on me just for dinner. I just happen to be really good at golf and that’s it.”
Yet he recounts with some bemusement a man exercising beside him last week in Canada who went on about Koepka’s tour buddy Dustin Johnson’s appearance without apparently recognizing Koepka. Koepka also notes with some resentment a Fox Sports promo spot for the U.S. Open that didn’t include a mention of him. (The network produced four promos, three of which included him, one significantly.)
“Just kind of shocked,” Koepka said. “They’ve had over a year to put it out, so I don’t know. Somebody probably got fired over it — or should.”
Koepka showed himself invincible in building a record seven-shot lead at last month’s PGA Championship and unflappable when that lead dwindled to one in a gusting wind. He still beat Johnson by two shots.
He called himself “shocked” and “stunned” after he made four consecutive bogeys on the back nine. A tough New York crowd pulled hard for Johnson’s comeback after Koepka made that fourth consecutive bogey and Johnson made birdie on No. 15 just ahead.
“Walking to the 15th tee, you could be very upset,” Koepka said. “I could have pouted about it. I could have done a million different things. I was actually really proud of myself the way I spun that mentally. I hit great shots coming down the stretch, especially when I needed to. … Now I know how to do that under pressure. That’s going to be important going forward. I was lucky enough to win, but a U.S. Open is a different test.”
Justin Thomas, the 2017 PGA champion, watched Koepka’s resiliency and perhaps learned something about how to “channel my inner B.K.”
“I can get a little bit up and down with my emotions,” Thomas said. “Everybody knows he’s very cool, calm, collected. He’s got one of the best swaggers out here, especially when he’s playing well.”
Somebody asked Koepka about Thomas’ channeling his inner Brooks Koepka comment.
“I’ve got no idea what that means,” he said.
He does know, though, what winning a third consecutive U.S. Open — and a fifth major — would mean. It would equal Anderson’s achievement, and leave him one behind four-time winners Anderson, Hogan, Jones and Jack Nicklaus.
“I’ve had 12 months to think about it,” Koepka said.
Koepka said he saw Anderson’s name on a building when he was in Scotland last summer, a coincidence he called “pretty cool.”
“I don’t know too much about him,” he said. “I haven’t Googled him.”