BLAINE, Minn. -- There’s no Tiger Woods at TPC Twin Cities this weekend, no Rory McIlory, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose or Rickie Fowler. Only two of the top 15 players in the current World Golf Rankings are in Blaine for the PGA Tour’s inaugural 3M Open.
But Minnesota golf fans in attendance this week will get the pleasure of watching the world’s best.
Brooks Koepka has no equal in today’s game. Just 29 years old, the majors monster already won four of golf’s grand slam events in the past three seasons — two PGA Championships (2018, ’19) and two U.S. Opens (2017, ’18).
The hulking power hitter’s major results this year are as follows:
PGA Championship: 1st
U.S. Open: 2nd
No player in the modern era has ever finished first or second in all four majors in one calendar year, a feat Koepka could achieve with a top-two finish at the British Open in just two weeks. Koepka has finished first or second in five of the past six majors. That is unthinkable with the depth of talent in today’s game. For reference, Johnson, the current No. 2 player in the world, has finished first or second in a major just five times in his entire career.
“His stretch in the majors is very, very impressive,” Phil Mickelson said Wednesday, July 3.
Prior to the PGA Championship, Koepka told reporters sometimes the majors are “the easiest to win.”
“Half the people shoot themselves out of it, and mentally I know I can beat most of them,” Koepka told reporters. “And then from there it’s those guys left, who’s going to play good and who can win?”
He then dove a little deeper into the math of it.
“There’s 156 (players) in the field, so you figure at least 80 of them I’m just going to beat,” Koepka said. “From there, you figure about half of them won’t play well, so you’re down to maybe 35. And then from 35, some of them, pressure is going to get to them. It only leaves you with a few more, and you’ve just got to beat those guys.”
It sounds like he’s oversimplifying matters, but recent results suggest he’s not. Combine his mental fortitude with his physical gifts, and there’s a reason why, when the lights are brightest, Koepka has been this game’s most dominating figure since Woods’ prime.
The one knock on Koepka is that he doesn’t always perform well on … easy courses. The non-majors, such as this weekend, are where Koepka doesn’t always produce his best results.
In 2019, Koepka has just two top-20 finishes in 10 non-major starts. That doesn’t scream dominance.
There’s a reason for that — his game isn’t best suited for birdie fests.
“I’m not the best when it comes to shootouts, if it’s going to be 25, 26 under par,” an open, engaged Koepka said Wednesday. “I’m a little better when the scores are a little bit lower.”
Hence why two of Koepka’s major titles have come at U.S. Opens, the event most known for its difficulty. In this spring’s PGA Championship, which Koepka won, only seven players finished under par.
“If it’s closer to even par, I’m a little bit more disciplined and understand that the center of the greens are my friends if I, you know, get a hard hole,” Koepka said. “Just put it on the green, two-putt and walk away with par (and) I’m happy. I know I haven’t lost anything. I’ve maybe gained a half shot on the field. So I think sometimes it’s a little easier that way.”
It’s the events when birdies are bountiful that Koepka has a harder time standing out. Easier courses often level golf’s playing field.
“It’s always been a little bit of a struggle for me when it seems like every hole you’ve got to make birdie,” Koepka said. “Sometimes my aggressive play, if I get a little too aggressive, it can backfire. You make a bogey in a shootout like that, you’re going backwards very quickly. Guys are making birdies, you drop two shots, and all of a sudden maybe you push a little bit harder on the next few holes and make another mistake and you start falling back.”
That explains why Koepka has just two non-major wins on the PGA Tour. Knowing that, it’s hard to see Koepka winning this week’s 3M Open, which is expected to see plenty of low scores thanks to ultra-soft conditions.
But perhaps Koepka can flip the narrative this weekend. He has plenty of motivation. This is the first season of the PGA’s Wyndham Rewards program, which honors the FedEx Cup’s regular-season leader with a $2 million prize. Currently in second place in the FedEx Cup standings with six events to play in the regular season, Koepka is in prime contention to be the inaugural winner.
Part of the reason he’s here this weekend is because he feels this course fits his game. The added length at TPC Twin Cities should favor the big hitters. Koepka likes that he should be able to pull out his driver — his most potent weapon — on most holes.
After playing the front-nine Wednesday — the more difficult half of the course — Koepka estimated a score ranging from 12 to 15 under par could win this weekend. That would fall right into his sweet spot, putting him in position to net career victory No. 7.
“The golf course is really good. I like it. I think it suits me quite well,” Koepka said. “I can hit driver and take advantage of it, and kind of cut some corners, and I think that will be a big advantage this week.”