For Jack Nicklaus to call a golfer’s season “one of the best major years ever” and not be talking about Tiger Woods in his prime, might be something of a surprise. For Brooks Koepka, 2018 was a stunning pronouncement, screaming to the golfing world that there’s one more at the table competing for the title of world’s best golfer.
Koepka’s wins at the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship in 2018 marked the first time a PGA golfer had won those two specific titles in the same year since Tiger Woods pulled the double in 2000. So it was fitting that Koepka outlasted the 14-time major winner to take home his third career major title and the second of his 2018.
Where it Began for Koepka
If you were looking hard enough, this three-victory run over six major tournaments by Koepka was foreshadowed with his performance in the 2016 Ryder Cup. At Hazeltine, Koepka shined brightly over the course of the three-day tournament.
Truth be told, Koepka wasn’t even supposed to be there in Minnesota. Nursing a bad ankle, Koepka had to qualify for Team USA by finishing well at the 2016 PGA Championship. With that gutsy performance, Koepka turned heads and earned the respect of his fellow pros. His fourth-place finish at the PGA punched an automatic ticket for Kopeka onto the US Ryder Cup squad.
Partnered with Brandt Sneaker for group play, the duo defeated Team Europe for two emotionally charged wins. But it was his singles play on Sunday that made Koepka the story of Hazeltine. Squaring off against 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett, Kopeka played a dazzling and mistake-free round of golf. Koepka needed only 14 holes to dispatch Willett as the American golfer shot 6-under over the shortened round for a dominating 5 and 4 win.
After the U.S. team claimed the 2016 Ryder Cup, Snedeker started sounding the alarm on the talent of Koepka. "This guy needs to know how good he is," said Snedeker. ”And he's starting to figure it out right now.”
After his coming out party at the Ryder Cup, Koepka began 2017 on a note of success with two 2nd place finishes and a top 11 showing at the Masters. But it all came together for the golfer at the U.S. Open at Erin Hills. With a flurry of birdies down the stretch, Koepka ran away with his first major title. His final score of 16-under tied Rory McIlroy’s 2011 performance for the lowest total in a U.S. Open.
2018 U.S Open
After offseason wrist surgery, Kopeka had to drop out of the 2018 Masters citing a slow recovery. “They said I would be about 80 percent, but I can’t play 80 percent,” Koepka said. “I either have to go full bore or not at all. I don’t want to risk getting it re-injured and then be out a long time.” Secretly, Koepka was aiming to be healthy enough to play at Shinnecock to defend his 2017 U.S. Open title. If he could pull off the back-to-back, Koepka would be the first golfer to earn the U.S. Open repeat since Curtis Strange in 1988-89.
On a tough layout, Koepka was five shots back of the tournament leader, Dustin Johnson, after the cut on Friday. Not having to worry about golfers like Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth left Koepka fighting off a pack of relative unknowns looking for their first major title.
When Johnson faltered with a 77 on Saturday, Koepka’s steady 72 left him in a four-way tie for the lead. On Sunday, Koepka minimized his mistakes and clipped Tommy Fleetwood, who shot a final round 63, for a one-stroke win.
Koepka’s second major was remarkable considering that just two months prior he didn’t feel he was healthy enough for the Masters.
2018 PGA Championship
The 100th PGA Championship was held in early August of 2018 at the Bellerive Country Club, close to St. Louis, Missouri. After a solid, yet unspectacular, 39th place finish at the Open Championship, Koepka was once again among the favorites heading into the annual PGA Championship.
Koepka’s first round score of 69 was followed with a jaw-dropping 63 vaulting the golfer into 3rd place heading into the weekend, two shots behind the leader, Gary Woodland. Koepka took control of the tournament in the third round as he posted his third straight score in the 60s with a 66 for a two-shot lead with only championship Sunday on the horizon.
As Koepka chased Woods’ 2000 double dip title run mark, Tiger began to mount his pursuit of the leader. Opening five strokes behind Koepka, Woods got within a single stroke twice during the final round but each time Koepka’s steady putter knocked down birdie after birdie on the back nine for a two-shot win.
Koepka’s final score of 264 strokes gave the golfer the all-time overall lowest score record at the PGA Championship. The score also tied Henrik Stenson’s 2016 Open Championship total for the best overall score in a major championship.
Only five golfers in history have won the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship in the same year. Koepka added his name to the impressive list that includes Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen.
After Koepka’s PGA win, the Golden Bear added his seal of approval on the golfer’s incredible 2018 season. In a social media post, Nicklaus said, “For Koepka to not play the Masters because of injury, to be unsure of his near future in golf, then to come back and win the U.S. Open and PGA Championship — to return and win two of the three majors left in the year — you have to believe it's one of the best years any golfer has ever had!”
With the all-time major leader’s admiration in tow, Koepka looks ahead to the Ryder Cup at the Albatros Course of Le Golf National in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, a suburb of Paris. The Ryder Cup is where it all began for Koepka and for the foreseeable future, Koepka will continue to be one of the world’s most feared golfers.