US Open 2019

Koepka ready for history

World No. 1 Brooks Koepka of the United States playing a shot during a practice round before the start of the US Open today. He won the Major by a stroke last year. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
World No. 1 Brooks Koepka of the United States playing a shot during a practice round before the start of the US Open today. He won the Major by a stroke last year. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

He believes putting will be key as he aims to be 2nd man to win 3 straight US Open titles

LOS ANGELES • The 119th US Open has the makings of a classic with two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka aiming to do what only one golfer has done before - win a third successive title.

It has been more than 100 years since Scotland's Willie Anderson accomplished that feat, but the American feels there is no better place to chase history than at Pebble Beach, where five prior editions have produced enduring Major championship memories.

Of the scenic Californian course hugging the Pacific Coast, Koepka said: "It's just such a special place. Just the history behind it. You look at the guys who have won here at Pebble, some of the greatest players who have played the game."

Jack Nicklaus, the 18-time record Major winner, lifted the first US Open staged at the venue in 1972.

Tiger Woods, who will again be the main draw after his Masters victory, triumphed in 2000 by a crushing 15 strokes - still a Major championship record.

And Graeme McDowell ended Europe's 40-year tournament drought when the Ulsterman was the last one standing in 2010.

But Koepka, who is the first man to hold back-to-back US Open and PGA Championships at the same time, is aware history is against his bid for a historic treble.

The world No. 1 said: "I know the odds are stacked up probably even more against me now to go three in a row than to back it up."

The last player to win the same Major for three straight years was Australia's Peter Thomson at the British Open from 1954 to 1956.

However, Koepka reckons that the real threat will be the minuscule sloping greens as he believes his competitors will be at most "a handful of guys (as) that's just how I view it going into every tournament, every Major".

The course's greens - averaging 325 sq m - are the smallest on the PGA Tour and surrounded by an intimidating 118 bunkers.

Of the notoriously bump-prone and fickle Poa annua grass, Koepka said: "It really comes down to who's going to make putts. These are some of the best Poa greens that I've seen."

At 7,075 yards, Pebble Beach is relatively short by modern standards, though Koepka does not feel that will hinder his long-hitting game as he has "more of an advantage with a shorter club".

The 29-year-old added: "Guys might be hitting driver. I could hit three-iron or three-wood, and it's easier for me to put those clubs on the fairway.

"I've got a shorter club, it's easier to hit it on line. I should technically be more on the fairway than the guy who is hitting driver.

"That's the way I'm spinning it. I'm going to be the same distance they are, and I'll have less club in (with second shot) than they will, but I'm hitting a lesser club off the tee."

While a three-peat victory would be "the coolest thing ever", the four-time Major winner is also chasing respect this weekend.

He was miffed at not being included in a Fox TV promotion for the event, but that slight will be giving him "little bit of extra motivation" ahead of the opening round.

Koepka, who was alerted to the glaring omission on Twitter, said: "We're amazed that I wasn't in it. Just kind of shocked. They've had over a year to put it out. So I don't know. Somebody probably got fired over it... or should."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, DPA, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2019, with the headline 'Koepka ready for history'. Print Edition | Subscribe