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Golf’s new king

Two weeks ago, at Bethpage Black, Brooks Koepka became the first player in the history of the sport to hold back to back titles at two different majors at the same time

Golf’s new king

In his weekly column at Golf.com ‘#AskAlan mailbag’ Alan Shipnuck was asked the following question: ‘Starting now, who wins more Majors: Bruce or Ricky + Rory + Jordan combined?’ In his detailed reply, Shipnuck picked the former.

Such has been the dominance of Brooks Koepka in recent years that not only is it a viable question if he’d singlehandedly outdo Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, for many it’s a viable answer as well.

Since the US Open 2017, Koepka has won four of the past nine majors. In 2018, Koepka became the first golfer since Curtis Strange in 1989 to defend his US Open title. Last year, he also became the first since Tiger Woods in 2000 to win both the US Open and PGA Championship in the same year.

Two weeks ago, at Bethpage Black, Koepka became the first player in the history of the sport to hold back to back titles at two different majors at the same time. He now stands alongside Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan as the only players to win four majorswithin the span of two years.

Koepka’s PGA Championship win returned him to the summit of World Golf Rankings, at the expense of Dustin Johnson, who was the No 1 for five weeks. Koepka rose from third to the top, hence relegating World No 2 Justin Rose to the third spot as well. This is the American’s second stint at the top, having spent two weeks atop the golf rankings last year.

At the event itself, a PGA Championship moved to May in a schedule reshuffle, Koepka created history for all the right reasons, and was on the brink of doing so for the wrong as well.

The 29-year-old open the second major of the year with 63 and 65 in the first two rounds. With 128 on the scorecard, Koepka held the largest lead half way through a major since 1934. He would go on to hold a seven stroke lead over the chasing pack 54 holes into the Championship.

And yet at the back 9 on final day, he was on facing the prospect of becoming the first player to surrender a seven stroke lead at any PGA Tour event, as Dustin Johnson came to within a stroke of the eventual champion when he was about to tee off of the 14th.

But it is adversity that brings out the best in Koepka. It is no coincidence that 75 percent of his titles are majors. And having stuttered under the weight of prodigious expectations on final day, the fact that Koepka managed to come through it can only bode well for his future major prospects.

In a sport that has increasingly become physical over the years, Koepka brings the needed muscle to succeed at the very top. Having sneaked into the summit of the game largely out of the limelight – as much owing to his unassuming mannerism as due to the stealth attack in his stroke-play which often is reserved for the topmost events – Koepka is no longer the outsider.

He’s the one inadvertently and inevitably hogging the limelight now. He is the best golfer in the world right now.

That Koepka has managed to do so at a time that was supposed to be the Woods renaissance, which almost the entirely of the planet was willing on, further underlines his mental fortitude and his ability to own the big stage precisely when most don’t expect him to.

But his career will now be defined by how he deals with the pressure of sustained expectation. He might still not be the media’s darling, but Koepka will enter most majors as one of the favourites in the near future.

Koepka has now finished in the top two of the first two majors of the year. He heads into the US Open starting June 13 as the two time defending champion, and would be favourite at Pebble Beach Golf Links ahead of the likes of Woods, Johnson and McIlroy.

How Koepka deals with the favourite tag is what will determine where he ends up, having already made bundles of history over the past two years.

This brings us to the question that Alan Shipnuck was asked in #AskAlan on Golf.com. Fowler, McIlroy and Koepka have one year between them in age. It’s 25 year old Jordan Speith who might be Koepka’s main foe at majors over the next few years.

Speith has won one title each at the Masters (2015), US Open (2015) and the Open Championship (2017). He needs a PGA championship title to complete a Career Grand Slam. That, and more, will drive him forward to return to being a threat at majors.

But with the US Open just 10 days away, it’s Koepka who stands above everyone else as the man to beat. And there’s no reason why that shouldn’t be the case over the next couple of seasons.

K Shahid

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