The surest bet in sports: Brooks Koepka at a major

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Jay Hart
·3 min read
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Brooks Koepka watches his tee shot on the 11th hole during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at TPC Harding Park Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Brooks Koepka watches his tee shot on the 11th hole during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at TPC Harding Park Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Want to know what the surest bet in sports is?

Brooks Koepka at a major championship.

After his last 20 rounds at a major, here is where Koepka has sat on the leaderboard — 3rd, 3rd, 1st, 1st, 1st, 4th, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 16th, 6th, 3rd, 2nd, 3rd, 8th, 4th, 4th and now … 3rd at the PGA Championship, which teed off Thursday in San Francisco.

Even if golf isn’t your thing, it’s not difficult to understand how good that is.

And yet, Brooks Koepka remains anonymous enough to sit on a commuter train, major championship trophy in tow, and go pretty much unnoticed.

Brooks Koepka rides a BART train with the Wanamaker Trophy
Brooks Koepka rides a BART train with the Wanamaker Trophy on February 17, 2020 in San Francisco, California. (Daniel Shirey/Getty Images for Fleishman)

This is because Koepka doesn’t do fist pumps or slam his club or much of anything that’s going to go “viral” other than drain a long putt here and there.

He is (or has the potential to be) to golf what Jimmie Johnson is to NASCAR: really chill dude, dominant as hell, mover of no needle.

(Taking jabs at Bryson DeChambeau, as he did not-so-subtly after Thursday’s round, will draw snickers across the golf world, but not much beyond.)

What Koepka does do is move up the leaderboard at majors. Every single time. He’s finished top-6 or better in 8 of the last 10, including four victories and two runner-ups.

In recent history, there is only one comparison: Tiger Woods, circa 1999-2002 and/or Woods circa 2005-08. OK, one man, two comparisons, but the point is that the run Koepka is currently on has but one peer: the heyday of an era that made Woods arguably the greatest to ever play the game.

Koepka’s clearly not there yet – Tiger won three majors in 2000 and four straight – but he’s in the neighborhood, and a victory this weekend would give Koepka three straight PGA Championship titles, something Tiger has never accomplished with any major.

As Tiger went on his hiatus for various reasons, golf spent the better part of a decade anointing the next big thing. Rory McIlroy. Jordan Spieth. Dustin Johnson. Jason Day. Justin Thomas. They’ve all been No. 1, they’ve all won majors – some more than one – but none held up.

McIlroy hasn’t won a major since 2014. Spieth won two in 2015, and aside from his victory at The Open in 2017, hasn’t done much since. Dustin Johnson has all the talent in the world but only one major to show for it. Same goes for Thomas and Day.

The future looks bright for Jon Rahm, but he hasn’t won one yet; neither has DeChambeau, who Koepka seemingly likes to needle for taking himself so seriously.

No one anointed Koepka — not even after he ran away with the 2017 U.S. Open — he’s just sort of done it himself. Even that victory in 2017 at Erin Hills was viewed as somewhat of a stunner at the time, a sign of things to come in retrospect.

Here we are three years and three more major victories later and Koepka’s ball is still rolling. Thursday’s 4-under 66 has him in a tie for third, just one back of Day and Brendon Todd for the lead.

“I think I can definitely play a lot better,” he said after Thursday’s round, “just need to tidy a few things up, and we'll be there come Sunday on the back nine.”

You gonna bet against that? I’m not.

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