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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Defending PGA champ Brooks Koepka off to strong start

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Danger lurks on the PGA Championship leaderboard.

Brooks Koepka is Danger.

Look out below.

Brooks Koepka, who shot a 4-under 67, watches his tee shot during Thursday’s first round of the PGA Championship. AP

The other 155 players in the field at Valhalla after Thursday’s opening round should brace for what may be ahead from Koepka, the biggest of big-game hunters in the sport.

Koepka is natural-born killer, an assassin at major championships, particularly the PGA Championship. He’s not only the defending champion but a three-time winner of this major.

If he were to win this week, it would the second time in his career he’s gone back-to-back winning the Wanamaker Trophy.

There, of course, is a long way to go before that shiny silver chalice is handed out on the 18th green. At least 54 holes, to be exact.

But for the uninitiated, let Thursday’s opening-round 4-under 67 Koepka posted serves as ample warning. He doesn’t usually go backward in major championships.

And to think: Koepka didn’t even play that well (by his standards) on Thursday yet he still stands just five shots out of the lead held by Xander Schauffele.

Koepka, who’s won three of the past six PGAs, opened with a 2-over 72 in last year’s PGA at Oak Hill and was tied for 38th entering the second round. He would then go on to shoot the low rounds of the day on both Friday and Saturday (66 in both rounds) before winning the tournament at 9-under par.

Brooks Koepka lines up a putt on the 10th green during the first round of the PGA Championship. Getty Images

Koepka called Thursday’s opening round “pretty ho-hum.’’

“I thought it was solid,’’ Koepka said. “I felt like I just kind of stayed patient through the whole thing.’’

Patience was Koepka’s theme Thursday.

“That’s what majors are all about,’’ he said. “You can’t win it today, but you just try to hang around and give yourself a chance or in a good spot come Sunday.’’

Asked if patience has always been a virtue for him, Koepka said, “Oh, God no, I’m not a patient person. I was very impatient. I couldn’t understand why I’m trying to hit a 7-iron to 15 feet [and] it would drive me nuts. I just was striving for perfection.’’

Brooks Koepka hits a shot out of the rough on the 17th hole as fans look on during the first round of the PGA Championship. Getty Images

Koepka said he learned patience from studying other players — particularly Dustin Johnson, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy.

“Those guys were big influences on me and the way I approach it,’’ Koepka said. “Getting to know DJ over the years, just kind of how he thinks and how he approaches things, his biggest attribute is kind being able to — if something bad happens — just kind of let it go. And if something good happens, you don’t want to get too high. Just kind of stay and ride the wave a little bit.

“And then G-Mac, he’s always been a gritty player and somebody that’s gotten the most out of his game. He’s always fighting and always trying.’’

Koepka always fighting and trying is a dangerous thing for the rest of the players in the field.

He’s extremely hard on himself. In fact, after his tie for 45th at the Masters last month, Koepka apologized to his team of coaches, caddie and trainers for a performance he felt was unacceptable.

Brooks Koepka hits a shot out of the bunker on the 18th hole during the first round of the PGA Championship. Getty Images

“Everybody put in a lot of hard work, dedicated a lot of time and effort, and then for me to go out and play like that is not what I expect of myself, I don’t think what they expect of me,’’ he said.

He then spoke about undergoing some “difficult punishment workouts’’ in the aftermath of the Masters disappointment.

Koepka said Ara Suppiah, the trainer that oversees his program, told him, “You finished 45th; you’re going to get penalized.’’

“I had like four or five days in a row of just … I turned white, I wanted to throw up in a few of them, but got through it,’’ he said.

Now he’ll try to use those punishment workouts to go through the players ahead of him on the leaderboard.

How good is Koepka in PGA Championships?

In the last six of them, Koepka is 32-under par — by far the best cumulative score over that time. The next best is Justin Rose at 13-under. Koepka is also the all-time leading money winner in the tournament with $9,338,764.

These things beg the question: Why is he so good in PGA Championships?

“No idea,’’ Koepka said. “I just like majors.’’

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