Brooks Koepka just turned 29 and already has four major golf championships — all of which came in the past two years. He’s the latest hot candidate to challenge Jack Nicklaus’ career mark of 18 major titles.
But the question today is this: Are there too many good young golfers in the world right now for Koepka, or anyone, to legitimately catch Jack?
First take: Michael Rand
My first instinct is to quickly answer “yes.” Leaderboards at majors these days tend to be jam-packed with big names, and even when someone runs away from the pack as Koepka did at the PGA Championship last weekend, it was still a struggle at the end.
Nicklaus benefited from fewer top challengers as he climbed the ladder. So, too, did Tiger Woods — who was a shoo-in to break the record before injuries and, yes, better competition stalled his progress.
Even winning one major a year in this era would be daunting. Koepka would need to do that well into his 40s to catch Nicklaus.
Columnist Jim Souhan: It’s hard to tell how good a great player’s competitors were. We accept as fact that fields are deeper now, but what do we make of Woods?
He seemed to intimidate a lot of good players yet needed extra holes to win majors away from other golfers such as Bob May, Rocco Mediate and Chris DiMarco.
I think Koepka will fall short of 18 not because of the quality of the fields but because of the difficulty of the task. He’s already 29, and only four have won more than nine majors.
He could win one a year for the next 10 years, become one of the three greatest golfers ever, and fall four short of Jack.
Rand: True, even with our tendencies to overextrapolate and let imaginations run wild after a hot streak, Koepka would have to be awfully good to even reach double-digits.
Maybe the more interesting case is Woods, who already has banked 15 majors — including of course The Masters this year after a decade-plus drought.
Tiger showed he can still create some magic, but I’d like his chances of doing it four more times a lot more if not for the competition from Koepka, Dustin Johnson and at least a dozen others.
Souhan: But only Koepka looks daunting at the moment. Rory hasn’t won a major since 2014, Spieth has slumped and Johnson has blown many more majors than he’s won.
Only Koepka currently seems to have the game and attitude to dominate majors.
Dozens of players could win one at any time. I don’t think any current players, with the possible exception of Koepka, has even a remote chance to win double digit majors.
Rand: Only five majors in history have been won by golfers after they turned 45 — and the last to do it was Nicklaus in 1986.
Even with better training extending athletes’ primes in all sports, there’s a good chance that if the record is ever going to be broken, it’s going to be by a golfer we haven’t even heard of yet — or maybe isn’t even alive.
Final word: Souhan
I’d take the not-alive-yet field over anyone who has already won a major.
More Rand: startribune.com/RandBall
More North Score: startribune.com/NorthScore