In the last four U.S. Opens in which has competed, Brooks Koepka has finished behind four players combined. Koepka knows this statistic. But he is not impressed by this statistic, or particularly happy about it.
“I wish it was less,” Koepka said flatly and without a smile.
Some guys merely talk tough about tough tests of golf. Koepka simply knows how to hang tough. So, he can talk tough all he wants.
The two-time U.S. Open champion hasn’t played much golf the past few months, and he recently got married to his longtime girlfriend Jena Sims, but it’s easy to conceive of Koepka being in the mix again in this week’s 122nd U.S. Open at The Country Club.
Koepka won the championship in 2017 and ’18, the first player since Curtis Strange in 1989 to successfully defend the national title. He nearly joined Willie Anderson as the second player to win three straight when he finished second in 2019 to Gary Woodland at Pebble Beach. He missed the 2020 edition with knee and hip injuries, but last year at Torrey Pines he was lurking again before ending up T-4.
Woodland, Jon Rahm, Louis Oosthuizen and Harris English. That’s it. That’s the list of players who have done better than Koepka in his last four starts.
“I love it, man. It's a tough test,” said Koepka, 32, who missed the cut in his Open debut in 2012 but hasn’t finished outside the top 18 in his seven starts since then. “I don't like these 25-under where you have to shoot 60 every round just to compete. I like it when it's a battle. That's more my style.”
In the last three months, Koepka has competed just five times, though he said knee and hip injuries that have slowed him the last few years have not been an issue. The U.S. Open is his second major event in a row with no starts in between. But he doesn’t believe in competitive rust. He’s been working hard.
“It's nice to be back playing. Anytime you can go play a major championship, I'm pretty excited, pretty locked in,” he said.
The ace up his sleeve is his frame of mind when he gets to this championship. He knows what to do – and what not to do.
“[It takes] a lot of discipline. Whether that means laying up off tees, just to hit fairways, missing in the correct spots, not being suckered into any pin locations even though it might be a go yardage for you or anything like that,” he began. “You've just got to be disciplined, stay kind of always in that moment.
“You know you're going to make a bunch of bogeys, [but] try not to make a double bogey,” he added. “That's always been my big goal in majors is you never make a double bogey out here, you're doing all right. You get out of trouble, then get back in position. That's the key to U.S. Opens.”
Anyone who wants to be added to the list – players to beat Brooks Koepka in the national championship – might want to make a note here. It’s called hanging tough.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.