When Jason Day won the 2015 PGA Championship he kick-started a run of first-time major winners, that stands undefeated after Brooks Koepka’s US Open win last Sunday. Danny Willett (Masters 2016), Dustin Johnson (US Open 2016), Henrik Stenson (The Open 2016), Jimmy Walker (PGA Championship 2016) and Sergio Garcia (Masters 2017), are the other five in this streak, that would look for its eighth chain at The Open Championship next month.
Since Tiger Woods’ triumph at the US Open nine years ago – the last of his 14 major wins – there have been 28 different winners at 36 majors – 23 of them were first-time champions.
The only six players who have won more than one major championship over the past nine years include Rory McIlroy along with Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington, Jordan Spieth, Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson. McIlroy (4), Spieth (2), Kaymer (2) and Watson (2) have won all of their career majors within this time span.
This is a corollary of both Woods’ plunge as the undisputed champion who was chasing Jack Nicklaus’ record major tally a decade ago, and the fact that the depth in golf has significantly increased. The next couple of months and results at The Open and PGA Championships could further underscore this – with Brian Harman, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler prominent in the queue.
At the US Open last weekend the top 3 players in the world Johnson, McIlroy and Day, all missed the cut. This was the first time in 31 years, since the rankings were first introduced, that that each of the top 3 missed out on the cut at a major.
Barring Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama it was largely a tournament to forget for most of the top 10.
But of course Koepka’s win was no fluke, as he finished with a US Open record of 16 under par after a final round 67, which meant a comfortable four-stroke win ahead of Harman and Matsuyama.
Things could’ve been a lot different for Koepka had certain events not taken place in his life. He mightn’t have been a professional golfer at all today.
The US Open Champion only got serious about golf after a serious car accident meant that he was barred from playing any contact sport, when he was 10 years old. Only four years ago he was mulling quitting the sport altogether.
Koepka, who had a PGA Tour win and two on the European Tour prior to the US Open triumph, relied on finding the green – 62 out of 72 times – which meant that an above average putting display was enough for him in the end.
In hindsight, of course, it would appear natural that the widest major course among the 441, would reward the player that is one of the longest drivers in the sport’s history. Where Koepka goes from here is a question the six previous major winners haven’t answered the way they would’ve wanted to.
The post-Tiger era saw its first first-time winners’ streak between the 2010 and 2012 editions of the US Open. That nine-major run gave us champions like Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson, who are all multiple-major winners now.
Considering that those in the current streak include the likes of Dustin Johnson and Jason Day – two of the top three players coming in the US Open – along with Sergio Garcia, who has finally broken in major duck and ranks number fifth in the world – to now Koepka, who has broken into the top 10 following the US Open win – it’s safe to say there’s a multiple-major winning potential in the current top 10, which also includes 7th ranked Henrik Stenson who will be the defending champion at The Open next month.
So it’s clearly not a case of outsiders winning the biggest silverware in golf. All these players including Koepka – a three-time college All-American a member of the Ryder Cup team, along with his tour wins, who has finished in the top 10 four times at majors over the past three years – are a talented bunch in an era where no one is dominating – just yet.
Perhaps golf does need a runaway leader who the rest can chase – or better a group of three-four players at the very top contesting for the majors – to name the current era, if nothing else. It would definitely help the branding, especially when what we call the post-Tiger era has coincided with the Big Four era in tennis, with the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and now even StanislasWawrinka joining in. Rory McIlroy has threatened to be that guy, and of course already has four major wins, but he hasn’t quite maintained it – just yet.
It does make the competition more interesting when there are no clear cut favourites heading into a golf major. But maybe the crowds need a level of excitement that comes with rooting for one of the top dogs, especially on the final day – as exemplified by the sheer lack of major-winners even in the hunt for the US Open in the final round.
Even so, what we do have is a top 10 – even a top 25 – as competitive as ever and a few of these have a chance at ensuring that we stop naming the post-Tiger era after Wood’s successes over the previous decade. Whether it’s one player or a bunch that steps up, would be the most enthralling bit about the next few majors.